Tropical Storm Claudette Spawns Tornadoes and Brings Heavy Rains to the South

The storm, which was downgraded to a depression on Saturday afternoon, brought tornadoes to portions of Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.,

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Tropical Storm Claudette, the third named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, formed in the Gulf of Mexico and brought “copious rainfall” of five to 10 inches across the Mississippi Delta and Gulf Coast before being downgraded to a tropical depression on Saturday, forecasters said.

Maximum sustained winds decreased to 35 miles per hour, with higher gusts, the National Hurricane Center said on Saturday afternoon. “Claudette is expected to weaken a little more tonight, however, it is forecast to become a tropical storm again when it moves across the Carolinas Sunday night or early Monday.”

Claudette was expected to produce additional rainfall totals of three to 6 inches, with some pockets getting as much as eight inches, across eastern Alabama, northern Georgia, the Florida panhandle, and South and North Carolina, the center said.

Isolated 15-inch rainfall totals could be recorded in southeastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi, southern Alabama and the western Florida panhandle, it said.

On Saturday, Tillmans Corner, Ala., reported nearly five inches of rain; Slidell, La., reported more than nine inches, and Diamondhead, Miss., reported nearly 12 inches, the Weather Prediction Center said.

Claudette also brought tornadoes to portions of Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi on Saturday, the National Hurricane Center said.

A tornado in East Brewton, Ala., about 80 miles northeast of Mobile, touched down around 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, injuring three people, the authorities said.

Gov. Kay Ivey said on Twitter that about 50 homes in a mobile-home park in the area were destroyed.

It is not unusual for tornadoes to develop within a hurricane system, said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman and meteorologist with the center in Miami.

“You’ve got these bands of thunderstorms that are rotating around the center and there is wind coming from all sorts of different directions, so they’ll spring up these tornadoes very quick,” he said.

The storm system caused power failures across the South, particularly in Florida, where more than 12,000 customers were without electricity as of Saturday morning, according to PowerOutage.us, which aggregates live power data from utilities.

“We’re continuing to feel the effects of severe weather due to T.S. Claudette across Northwest Florida,” said Kimberly Blair, a spokeswoman for Gulf Power Company, which had about 3,400 customers without power early Saturday afternoon.

In Alabama, nearly 3,000 customers were without power on Saturday afternoon, according to Alabama Power, which said it was assessing damage from Claudette.

Tornados unrelated to Claudette also touched down in parts of Ohio and Indiana, where power failures affected more than 77,000 customers.

ImageEven before making landfall, Claudette was a hazard for motorists trying to navigate a flooded Gause Boulevard in Slidell, La., late Friday.
Even before making landfall, Claudette was a hazard for motorists trying to navigate a flooded Gause Boulevard in Slidell, La., late Friday.Credit…Scott Threlkeld/The Advocate, via Associated Press

While the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season is just getting underway, many residents along the Gulf Coast are still recovering from a string of storms that battered the region last summer and fall.

Seven named storms thrashed the Gulf Coast in 2020, including Eta, which slammed Florida twice, leaving tens of thousands without electricity and flooding beach communities.

Louisiana, perhaps one of the hardest-hit states, saw at least five storms, including Zeta and Hurricane Laura, which made landfall on the state’s coast as a Category 4 storm with 150-mile-per-hour winds, destroying office buildings, a sky bridge, trees and power lines. The storm was also responsible for at least six deaths in the state.

In late May, a subtropical storm named Ana developed northeast of Bermuda, becoming the first named storm of the current hurricane season.

It was the seventh year in a row that a named storm developed in the Atlantic before the official start of the season on June 1. Ana was followed by Bill, which formed hundreds of miles off the coast of North Carolina earlier this week and became a tropical storm before being downgraded as it remained at sea.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast that there would be 13 to 20 named storms this year, six to 10 of which would be hurricanes, and three to five major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher in the Atlantic.

Last year there were 30 named storms, including six major hurricanes, forcing meteorologists to exhaust the alphabet for the second time and move to using Greek letters.

It was the highest number of storms on record, surpassing the 28 from 2005, and included the second-highest number of hurricanes on record.

Hurricanes have become increasingly dangerous and destructive with each passing season.

Researchers have found that climate change has produced storms that are more powerful and have heavier rainfall. The storms also have a tendency to dawdle and meander. A combination of rising seas and slower storms also make for higher and more destructive storm surges.

Mike Ives, Maria Cramer and Johnny Diaz contributed reporting.

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