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Sun. 8:04 p.m.: Florida panhandle braces for impact as Alberto approaches

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Beaches in Florida were largely empty ahead of Memorial Day as the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, Subtropical Storm Alberto, approached the northern Gulf Coast carrying brisk winds and heavy rain.

The storm disrupted long holiday weekend plans from Pensacola in the Florida 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 amid high surf and dangerous conditions.

It also triggered mandatory evacuations of some small, sparsely populated Gulf Coast barrier islands in one Florida county. The Florida Division of Emergency Management said in a statement today that a mandatory evacuation has been issued in Franklin County for all barrier islands there and those in the county living directly on the coast in mobile homes or in recreation vehicle parks.

Alberto got an early jump on the 2018 hurricane season, which doesn’t officially start until June 1. The storm prompted Florida, Alabama and Mississippi to launch emergency preparations over the weekend amid expectations Alberto would reach land sometime Monday. 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.

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

At 5 p.m. today, Alberto was centered about 165 miles (265 kilometers) west of Tampa and had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph). Forecasters said Alberto has most recently taken a north-northwest track that would bring it over the northern Gulf of Mexico during the night and make landfall on or in the vicinity of the Florida Panhandle on Monday.

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