Monday 19 February 2018

Tropical Storm Colin nears Florida amid state of emergency

Beachgoers take shelter under an umbrella after a sudden downpour associated with Storm Colin came ashore at Clearwater Beach (AP)
Beachgoers take shelter under an umbrella after a sudden downpour associated with Storm Colin came ashore at Clearwater Beach (AP)
Storm Colin is expected to produce rainfall amounts of three to five inches

Residents on Florida's Gulf coast filled sandbags, schools planned to close early and Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency as Tropical Storm Colin gained speed and churned toward the state, threatening serious flooding.

A large portion of Florida's western and Panhandle coast was already under a tropical storm warning when the National Hurricane Centre announced that a swift-moving depression had become a named storm. The centre said it is the earliest that a third named storm has ever formed in the Atlantic basin.

Colin's maximum sustained winds on Monday morning had increased to nearly 50 mph with some slow strengthening possible during the next two days.

The storm was centred about 285 miles west-southwest of Tampa and moving north-northeast at nearly 16mph.

Early on Monday, Ronald P Milligan, 74, stopped by a park in St Petersburg where authorities planned to distribute sandbags because the ditch in front of his home had filled during the previous evening's rain.

"If last night was a 'no storm' - and the water was almost up to the hump in my yard - I'm worried," Mr Milligan said, motioning to about knee level. He has lived in Florida since the late 1970s and has not ever prepared for a storm this early.

Sandbags also were being distributed in Tampa and nearby cities.

The latest forecast for Colin called for the storm to make landfall near the Big Bend area of Florida in the mid-afternoon, move across the Florida peninsula into Georgia and then move along or just off the South Carolina coast before heading out to sea.

Schools in at least one Florida Gulf Coast county planned to dismiss students early on Monday.

Farther north at Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, the storm's arrival this afternoon was due at the same time as high tide, creating even higher risk of severe flooding, said Andrew Gude, manager of the refuge for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We're taking chain saws home so we can cut our way out of our neighbourhoods and cut our way back into work tomorrow," Mr Gude said.

Colin is expected to produce rainfall amounts of 3 to 5 inches, and forecasters said up to 8 inches are possible across western Florida, eastern Georgia and coastal areas of the Carolinas through Tuesday.

Forecasters said storm surge and high tide could combine to flood normally dry areas along Florida's coastline. They also described Colin as a lopsided storm, with tropical storm-force winds extending up to 185 miles east of its centre.

A tropical storm warning was also in effect for the entire Georgia coast and the lower South Carolina coast.

Meanwhile, Governor Rick Scott postponed a political meeting with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump scheduled on Monday in New York so he can remain in the state capital to monitor the weather.

Mr Scott warned residents not to simply look at the centre of the storm, saying the heaviest rain will be to the east and west of it.

Colin was expected to pass the Georgia coast before dawn Tuesday, said Dennis Jones, director of the Chatham County Emergency Management Agency.

Mr Jones said flash floods appeared to pose the greatest threat, with the worst flood potential expected late on Tuesday when local waterways already swollen with rain crest with the high tide.

Allan Giese, 62, watched the start-and-stop rains on Monday morning from his home about 150 yards from the St Marys River, where he has seen larger storms bang up boats anchored in the nearby marina. He planned to bring his plywood work table inside, but otherwise simply ride out the storm inside with his wife.

"What it sounds like is just some heavy rains, but nothing torrential, not high winds," Mr Giese said. "We'll just keep an eye on the tracker, go to bed and hunker down."

Press Association

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