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Claudette sparks flooding along Gulf Coast, spins up tornadoes

By
Lauren Fox, Accuweather.com
Claudette, the first named storm of the season, was downgraded to a tropical depression on Saturday afternoon. Image courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Claudette, the first named storm of the season, was downgraded to a tropical depression on Saturday afternoon. Image courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

June 19 (UPI) -- The first named tropical system of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season to directly impact the United States has formed. Tropical Storm Claudette formed early Saturday morning and residents along the Gulf Coast are feeling the impacts.

After being named Potential Tropical Cyclone Three by the National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center (NHC) late on Thursday afternoon, the system further developed into Tropical Storm Claudette at 4 a.m. CDT, Saturday. By late Saturday afternoon, Claudette had been downgraded to a tropical depression with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph.

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As of 4 p.m. CDT on Saturday, Claudette was located 95 miles west of Montgomery, Alabama, and was moving northeast at 16 mph.

As of 1 p.m. CDT Saturday, Claudette had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph with the center of the storm located 80 miles north-northwest of Mobile, Alabama.

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Several tornado warnings were issued on Saturday morning in parts of southern Alabama and the Florida panhandle as Claudette moved inland.

Storm damage was reported in East Brewton, Alabama, around 8:15 a.m. CDT after a possible tornado tracked through the area, one of several suspected tornadoes on Saturday morning. No serious injuries were reported in the town, but damage and debris was scattered across some neighborhoods.

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According to officials, the suspected tornado resulted in damages to 30 to 40 structures in the town, AccuWeather's Kim Leoffler reported. Three people are being treated for injuries.

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A tornado in Kirkland, Alabama, was confirmed on radar, according to the National Weather Service. A trailer in Kirkland was flipped over, but no injuries were reported.

A tornado watch has been issued for portions of Alabama, Florida and Georgia until 7 p.m. CDT Saturday due to the continued threat of twisters that are spun up by Claudette.

After pushing toward the central Gulf Coast Friday and Friday evening, in an unusual turn of events, Claudette formed inland over far southeastern Louisiana Saturday morning. At the time Claudette was named, the storm was packing maximum sustained winds of 45 mph -- well over the 39-mph threshold needed to be considered a tropical storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

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On Friday evening, AccuWeather's Bill Wadell reported that the winds in Biloxi, Mississippi, were "really starting to pick up." Boats had to be moved to the harbor to wait out the worst of the storm's impacts on the coast.

Leoffler reported that the winds in Biloxi, which reached up to 27 mph, began to stir up some waves along the coastline.

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Red flags were out at Pensacola Beach in Florida on Friday evening, meaning no swimming or wading in the ocean is authorized.

"Please, please do not get in the Gulf of Mexico," Wes Moreno, Escambia County Public Works Director, Interim County Administrator, told AccuWeather's Emmy Victor. "The rip currents are there and they are strong."

Moreno said the biggest threats to the area from the storm are likely flooding and rip currents and said for the next 36 hours Emergency Management would have all hands on deck.

On Thursday, officials along the Gulf coast began to issue warnings ahead of the storm's arrival. A tropical storm warning was issued on Thursday that covered from just east of Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Okaloosa/Walton County line in the Florida Panhandle.

The New Orleans metropolitan area was covered under the warning as well. A tropical storm warning goes into effect when tropical storm conditions are expected somewhere in the area within the next 36 hours.

In addition, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a state of emergency declaration Thursday ahead of any tropical storm conditions. The declaration of a state of emergency allows the use of state resources to provide storm response aid.

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Lake Charles, Louisiana, still not fully recovered from the damages from last year's hurricane season, began preparation for Claudette. Mayor Nic Hunter posted to Facebook on Thursday that the city was requesting additional help from FEMA ahead of landfall.

"To my knowledge, FEMA has never dealt with one community that has endured four federally declared, natural disasters over the course of less than a year," Hunter wrote on social media. "The people who need FEMA's help the most are the most vulnerable population, many of whom have endured multiple disasters with multiple applications for assistance."

As what would become Claudette approached the U.S. coast on Friday, winds really began to pick up just off the coast of Louisiana and rain continued to fall.

According to AccuWeather forecasters, some portions of southeastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi have already picked up more than four inches of rain since Friday.

Ahead of the storm's arrival, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency distributed 90,000 sandbags to residents in the southern and southeastern portions of the state to help redistribute flood water away from their homes.

With flooding being a major component of this storm for much of the affected areas, the EMA is reminding people of flood safety. If a roadway looks flooded, the agency says it is best to "turn around, don't drown."

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"People drive through flooded roadways, but you can't see how deep it is or what's below, you're going in blind," Kelly Richards, Public Information Officer for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, told AccuWeather's Emmy Victor. "We really do urge everyone to turn around and find another way for you to encounter those flooded roadways."

Images poured in overnight Friday of flooded roadways and stranded cars in Slidell, Louisiana.

Claudette is the third tropical storm in the Atlantic Basin in the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, following Tropical Storms Ana in May and Tropical Storm Billearlier in June.

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