MIAMI – The first named storm of the Atlantic season hammered Florida with rain, heavy winds, and tornadoes Thursday as it moved over land toward the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas, promising sloppy commutes and waterlogged vacation getaways through the beginning of the weekend.
Tropical Storm Andrea was not expected to strengthen into a hurricane but forecasters warned it could cause isolated flooding and storm surge before it loses steam over the next two days.
Tropical storm warnings were in effect for a large section of Florida’s west coast and for the East Coast from Flagler Beach, Fla., all the way to Cape Charles Light in Virginia, and the lower Chesapeake Bay south of New Point Comfort. A tropical storm warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected somewhere inside the warning area within a day and a half.
As of 8 p.m. Thursday, Andrea was about 45 miles west of Gainesville, after making landfall hours earlier in Florida’s Big Bend area. Its maximum sustained winds had fallen to 50 mph and it was moving northeast at 15 mph.
Rains and winds from the storm were forecast to sweep northward along the Southeastern U.S. coast Thursday night and today. The storm was expected to lose steam by Saturday as it moves through the eastern United States, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Another threat to Florida’s coast was storm surge, said Eric Blake, a specialist at the Hurricane Center. The center said coastal areas from Tampa Bay north to the Aucilla River could see storm surge of 2 to 4 feet, if the peak surge coincides with high tide.
Gulf Islands National Seashore closed its campgrounds and the road that runs through the popular beachfront park Wednesday. The national seashore abuts Pensacola Beach and the park road frequently floods during heavy rains.
Altogether, 30 state parks closed their campgrounds in Florida.
Meanwhile, south Georgia residents were bracing for high winds and heavy rains that could lead to flooding.
On Cumberland Island off the Georgia coast, the National Park Service was evacuating campers as the storm approached.
“My main concern is the winds,” said chief park ranger Bridget Bohnet. “We’re subject to trees falling and limbs breaking, and I don’t want anybody getting hurt.”
Forecasters were predicting the storm would pass through Georgia overnight, and the island would likely reopen to tourists today.