A tropical storm that lost steam after blowing ashore Monday dumped rain on Florida and Alabama, while the first hurricane of this year’s Atlantic season picked up strength over open waters on a path toward Bermuda.
Hurricane Bill was expected to become a major hurricane in the next couple of days, with winds topping 110 mph. Hours after forming Monday, Bill’s top wind speed jumped to 90 mph as of 11 a.m. EDT.
In parts of the Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama, rainfall of 2 to 4 inches was expected as a weakened Claudette moved farther inland. The storm was downgraded to a tropical depression with winds of 30 mph hours after it made landfall near Fort Walton Beach.
The first named storm to hit the U.S. mainland this year was headed across Alabama toward northeastern Mississippi, but wasn’t expected to cause significant flooding or wind damage.
Near Panama City, a man in his mid-20s died after being pulled from the surf on Sunday afternoon. A Panama City Beach police dispatcher could not immediately provide more details. The Panama City News Herald said another person was reported missing at sea after his boat sank off Shell Island.
Pensacola Beach condominiums had warned residents to bring balcony furniture indoors. After the storm passed farther east, early morning joggers and tourists seeking sea shells dotted the early morning sands.
Surf shop instructor Ben Martin pulled up on the beach in his pickup truck with surfboards in the back around 6:30 a.m. Official surf conditions were moderate, but Martin predicted a great day.
“We are going to get some pretty good surf,” Martin said. “Every surfer that owns a board is going to call in sick.”
Over the Atlantic, Hurricane Bill quickly strengthened, and forecasters think it could be a major hurricane by Wednesday.
“We do believe (Bill) could become a major hurricane during the next couple of days,” said Daniel Brown, a hurricane specialist for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Bill was centered about 1,080 miles east of the Lesser Antilles and moving west-northwest at 16 mph at 11 a.m. EDT. The five-day forecast shows the storm passing northeast of Puerto Rico and heading toward Bermuda, though a storm’s track is difficult to accurately predict several days in advance.
On the Gulf Coast, the center of Claudette was about 80 miles southwest of Montgomery, Ala., at 11:00 a.m. EDT. Claudette was headed across southwestern Alabama and into northeastern Mississippi late Monday.
“We may see some heavy rains as a result, but we don’t expect any high winds or coastal flooding,” said John Dosh, manager of Emergency Management for Escambia County, where Pensacola is located.
Far out in the Pacific, Hurricane Guillermo weakened to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds near 60 mph. Guillermo was centered about 695 miles east of Hilo, Hawaii, and moving west-northwest near 18 mph.
Elsewhere, Tropical Depression Ana was moving quickly across the northeastern Caribbean Sea. It was expected to reach the coast of the Dominican Republic later Monday.
Tropical storm watches for Antigua, Barbuda and Montserrat were discontinued. But watches remained in effect for Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, St. Maarten and several other islands in the area. Ana was forecast to bring 2 to 4 inches of rain.
Despite the storms, a warmer weather pattern called El Nino over the Pacific Ocean is generally expected to damper the formation of tropical storms in the Caribbean and Atlantic this year, said Brian Daly, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mobile, Ala.
Forecasters revised their Atlantic hurricane season predictions after the first two months of the season passed without any named storms developing.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.