US Gulf Coast braces for impact as Alberto approaches

  • Gulfport, Miss., residents shovel sand into bags at a Harrison County Road Department sand bagging location, while preparing for Subtropical Storm Alberto to make its way through the Gulf of Mexico, Saturday, May 26, 2018. The slow moving storm is threatening to bring heavy rainfall, storm surges, high wind and flash flooding this holiday weekend.

    Gulfport, Miss., residents shovel sand into bags at a Harrison County Road Department sand bagging location, while preparing for Subtropical Storm Alberto to make its way through the Gulf of Mexico, Saturday, May 26, 2018. The slow moving storm is threatening to bring heavy rainfall, storm surges, high wind and flash flooding this holiday weekend. Associated Press

  • Eddy Warner loads sand bags as he waits for family members to assist and tie off and load the bags into his vehicle, while preparing for Subtropical Storm Alberto to make its way through the Gulf of Mexico in Gulfport, Miss., Saturday, May 26, 2018. Warner will use the bags as a barrier to keep water from flooding his garage. The slow moving storm is threatening to bring heavy rainfall, storm surges, high wind and flash flooding this holiday weekend.

    Eddy Warner loads sand bags as he waits for family members to assist and tie off and load the bags into his vehicle, while preparing for Subtropical Storm Alberto to make its way through the Gulf of Mexico in Gulfport, Miss., Saturday, May 26, 2018. Warner will use the bags as a barrier to keep water from flooding his garage. The slow moving storm is threatening to bring heavy rainfall, storm surges, high wind and flash flooding this holiday weekend. Associated Press

  • Travis Lee loads filled sand bags onto a truck bed as he and a co-worker prepare to protect the storage company they work at, Saturday, May 26, 2018 in Gulfport, Miss. They and many other Gulf Coast residents are preparing for Subtropical Storm Alberto to make its way through the Gulf of Mexico to land. The slow moving storm is threatening to bring heavy rainfall, storm surges, high wind and flash flooding this holiday weekend.

    Travis Lee loads filled sand bags onto a truck bed as he and a co-worker prepare to protect the storage company they work at, Saturday, May 26, 2018 in Gulfport, Miss. They and many other Gulf Coast residents are preparing for Subtropical Storm Alberto to make its way through the Gulf of Mexico to land. The slow moving storm is threatening to bring heavy rainfall, storm surges, high wind and flash flooding this holiday weekend. Associated Press

  • In this Saturday, May 26, 2018, photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, Hannibal and Emily Baldwin pose for a wedding photo under an umbrella outside the Casa Marina Resort in Key West, Fla. The Tampa, Fla., couple had planned an outdoor wedding, but the evening ceremony and reception were moved inside due to rain bands emanating from Subtropical Storm Alberto. The center of the storm passed far enough west of the contiguous Florida Keys to avoid placing the region under a tropical storm warning. (Bob Care/Florida Keys News Bureau via AP)

    In this Saturday, May 26, 2018, photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, Hannibal and Emily Baldwin pose for a wedding photo under an umbrella outside the Casa Marina Resort in Key West, Fla. The Tampa, Fla., couple had planned an outdoor wedding, but the evening ceremony and reception were moved inside due to rain bands emanating from Subtropical Storm Alberto. The center of the storm passed far enough west of the contiguous Florida Keys to avoid placing the region under a tropical storm warning. (Bob Care/Florida Keys News Bureau via AP) Associated Press

  • Tommy Whitlock, left, places a filled sand bag onto his trailer at a Harrison County Road Department sand bag location, as his friend Joseph Buckner adjusts the load while preparing for Subtropical Storm Alberto to make its way through the Gulf of Mexico in Gulfport, Miss., Saturday, May 26, 2018. Whitlock, who lives near a creek wants to keep the spill off water from entering his home. The slow moving storm is threatening to bring heavy rainfall, storm surges, high wind and flash flooding this holiday weekend. Several similar setups were placed throughout the Mississippi Gulf Coast to help residents protect their property. The sandbagging process was left to the residents.

    Tommy Whitlock, left, places a filled sand bag onto his trailer at a Harrison County Road Department sand bag location, as his friend Joseph Buckner adjusts the load while preparing for Subtropical Storm Alberto to make its way through the Gulf of Mexico in Gulfport, Miss., Saturday, May 26, 2018. Whitlock, who lives near a creek wants to keep the spill off water from entering his home. The slow moving storm is threatening to bring heavy rainfall, storm surges, high wind and flash flooding this holiday weekend. Several similar setups were placed throughout the Mississippi Gulf Coast to help residents protect their property. The sandbagging process was left to the residents. Associated Press

  • George Estes tosses sand into storage tubs at a Harrison County Road Department sand bagging location, that he will take back to his law office in downtown Gulfport, Miss., and will enlist help to fill bags that he will place by his office doors and plate glass window, while preparing for Subtropical Storm Alberto to make its way through the Gulf of Mexico in Gulfport, Miss., Saturday, May 26, 2018. The slow moving storm is threatening to bring heavy rainfall, storm surges, high wind and flash flooding this holiday weekend.

    George Estes tosses sand into storage tubs at a Harrison County Road Department sand bagging location, that he will take back to his law office in downtown Gulfport, Miss., and will enlist help to fill bags that he will place by his office doors and plate glass window, while preparing for Subtropical Storm Alberto to make its way through the Gulf of Mexico in Gulfport, Miss., Saturday, May 26, 2018. The slow moving storm is threatening to bring heavy rainfall, storm surges, high wind and flash flooding this holiday weekend. Associated Press

  • Tyler Ray Wells, 4, builds a sand castle by the water on Biloxi Beach in Biloxi, Miss., Saturday, May 26, 2018, as Subtropical Storm Alberto slowly makes its way through the Gulf of Mexico. The storm is threatening to bring heavy rainfall, storm surges, high wind and flash flooding this holiday weekend.

    Tyler Ray Wells, 4, builds a sand castle by the water on Biloxi Beach in Biloxi, Miss., Saturday, May 26, 2018, as Subtropical Storm Alberto slowly makes its way through the Gulf of Mexico. The storm is threatening to bring heavy rainfall, storm surges, high wind and flash flooding this holiday weekend. Associated Press

  • Tracey Gasper, left, and her son, Chase, 6, from Donaldsonville, La., sit in the sands of Biloxi Beach in Biloxi, Miss., Saturday, May 26, 2018, as Subtropical Storm Alberto slowly makes its way through the Gulf of Mexico. The storm is threatening to bring heavy rainfall, storm surges, high wind and flash flooding this holiday weekend.

    Tracey Gasper, left, and her son, Chase, 6, from Donaldsonville, La., sit in the sands of Biloxi Beach in Biloxi, Miss., Saturday, May 26, 2018, as Subtropical Storm Alberto slowly makes its way through the Gulf of Mexico. The storm is threatening to bring heavy rainfall, storm surges, high wind and flash flooding this holiday weekend. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 5/27/2018 1:30 PM

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Beaches in Florida were largely empty ahead of Memorial Day as a slowly intensifying storm carrying brisk winds and heavy rain approached the U.S. Gulf Coast on Sunday.

The storm disrupted plans from Pensacola in the Panhandle to Miami Beach on Florida's southeastern edge. Lifeguards posted red flags along the white sands of Pensacola Beach, where swimming and wading were banned due to high surf and dangerous conditions.

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Subtropical Storm Alberto - the first named storm of the 2018 hurricane season that starts June 1 - prompted Florida, Alabama and Mississippi to launch emergency preparations Saturday. Rough conditions were expected to roil the seas off the eastern and northern Gulf Coast region through Tuesday.

"These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions," the National Hurricane Center in Miami said in a statement.

In Miami, organizers called off the sea portion of the Miami Beach Air & Sea Show Sunday because of heavy rain and rough waters. And in the Tampa Bay area on the central Gulf Coast, cities offered sandbags for homeowners worried about floods.

Live video from webcams posted in Clearwater and Destin showed half-empty beaches, and whitecaps roiled the normally placid Gulf waters.

Gusty showers were to begin lashing parts of Florida on Sunday, and authorities were warning of the possibility of flash flooding.

The hurricane center said Sunday that a tropical storm warning was in effect from Bonita Beach, Florida, to the Mississippi-Alabama border.

In Gulf Shores, Alabama, webcams showed beaches beginning to fill up as the storm's track shifted slightly east away from the region, but red flags on the beach warned beachgoers to stay out of the rough water. Grant Brown, the city's public information officer, said they had already finished a number of preparations such as clearing culverts to prepare for big rains but Sunday had turned into a "really nice day."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

With conditions expected to worsen overnight officials are encouraging people planning to check-out Monday to give themselves extra time.

Jeffrey Medlin, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service's Mobile office, warned that even after the storm moves north there will still be swells coming up from the south that could cause dangerous rip currents. Just because it's "nice and sunny" after the storm passes, Medlin says there's still a risk for swimmers.

"People have drowned by going out to the water too soon," he said.

Isolated tornadoes were possible across the region on Sunday and Monday.

Under overcast skies and occasional drizzle, several Gulfport, Mississippi, residents lined up to fill 10- and 20-pound (5- and 9-kilogram) bags with sand they will use to block any encroaching floodwater expected as a result of Alberto.

Tommy Whitlock said sandbagging has become a usual event in his life since he lives next to a creek.

"I'm doing this because every time we have a hard rain, it floods at my house," Whitlock said. "We get water from other neighborhoods, and water can get up to a foot deep in some places."

Alberto is expected to strengthen until it reaches the northern Gulf Coast, likely on Monday night.

The NWS said waves as high as 18 feet (5.5 meters) could pound the popular Gulf beaches in Baldwin County, Alabama, and northwestern Florida on Monday. A high surf warning was in effect through 7 p.m. Tuesday local time.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

At 2 p.m. EDT Sunday, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Alberto was about 135 miles (220 kilometers) west of Tampa, Florida, and moving north at 13 mph (20 kph). The storm had top sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph).

A subtropical storm like Alberto has a less defined and cooler center than a tropical storm, and its strongest winds are found farther from its center. Subtropical storms can develop into tropical storms, which in turn can strengthen into hurricanes.

Tracey Gasper and her 6-year-old son, Chase, traveled to Biloxi Beach from Donaldsonville, Louisiana, for a day of fun in the sun with a group of friends from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The weather had scared off the usual crowds expected for the holiday weekend.

"It was a 50-50 chance of whether to come down and we decided to chance it," Gasper said.

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AP writer Rebecca Santana reported from New Orleans.

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