Tropical Storm Fred Slams Florida Panhandle Threatens Georgia, North Carolina

Tropical Storm Fred slammed the Florida Panhandle on Monday afternoon, making landfall with a wet slap of heavy rain and blasting winds at 65 miles per hour (104 kph).

The powerful storm struck the coast at 3:15 p.m. EST, about 25 miles west of Apalachicola, close to the city of Port St. Joe, home to some 3,500 residents, said Andrew Hagen, marine forecaster at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Before hitting the coast, the storm battered the Florida barrier island of Cape San Blas, Hagen said.

“With a tropical storm, you’re going to have similar impacts spread out across much of the Florida Panhandle, really from Apalachicola all the way to Tallahassee. A lot of those areas are going to be experiencing similar winds and similar rain. It’s not like it’s a lot worse at the landfall point,” Hagen said.

Now that the storm has made landfall, it was expected to begin weakening, Hagen said.

“We do expect it to weaken fairly quickly as the late afternoon and evening progresses and it moves inland,” Hagen said.

“We do think we could get storm surge as much as 5 feet (1.5 meters) above ground level, so if you were to stay in those areas, it would be very dangerous,” said Robbie Berg, hurricane specialist at NHC.

Additionally, heavy rainfall of up to 12 inches (30 cm) in some isolated spots in Florida was forecast, as well as drenching downpours in southeastern Alabama, Georgia and the western Carolinas, said senior hurricane specialist Richard Tasch.

Several school districts in western Florida closed for the day, promising to reopen on Tuesday.

“Buses cannot safely transport students at winds greater than 35 mph and current information indicates that we may experience 35 mph wind gusts beginning around 1 p.m.,” the Santa Rosa County school district said on its website.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)