Fred strengthens to tropical storm as it heads to US coast

The National Hurricane Center said Fred regained its tropical storm status in the Gulf of Mexico early Sunday as parts of the Caribbean were gearing up for impacts from Tropical Storm Grace.

Fred was forecast to move across the Gulf before reaching the coast Monday night or Tuesday morning, forecasters said. They said people from Alabama to the central Florida Panhandle should monitor the system’s progress.

A tropical storm warning is now in effect for the coast of the Florida Panhandle from Navarre to the Wakulla/Jefferson County line, meaning tropical storm conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area in the next 24 hours. A tropical storm watch is in effect for the coast of the Florida Panhandle from the Alabama/Florida border to Navarre.

Fred’s maximum sustained winds stood at 40 mph (65 kph) Sunday morning.

Anticipating Fred, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for the state’s Panhandle region. And Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statement Saturday saying her administration was monitoring the weather and “will be ready to act from the state level if needed.”

Fred was located Sunday afternoon about 320 miles (555 kilometers) south-southeast of Pensacola, Florida, and moving north-northwest at 12 mph (19 kph).

Fred had been downgraded to a tropical wave on Saturday. Tropical waves can contain winds and heavy rain, but do not circulate around a center point or an “eye” like a tropical storm or hurricane.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Grace was 90 miles (1145 kilometers) south of San Juan, Puerto Rico on Sunday afternoon and was bringing heavy rain to the island.

Tropical storm warnings were issued for the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and part of the Dominican Republic, meaning they will likely be hit by Grace. A tropical storm watch was issued for the Haiti.

Grace had maximum sustained winds around 40 mph (65 kph). The storm was moving west-northwest at 16 mph (26 kph).

Both Grace and Fred, regardless of their storm status, posed a heavy rain and flood threat, forecasters said.

Rainfall totals around 3 to 6 inches (7.5 to 15 centimeters) were forecast from Grace for the Leeward Islands, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, through Tuesday.

Fred was forecast to bring 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) to the Big Bend of Florida and the Panhandle from Sunday night into Tuesday.

A tropical storm earlier in the week, Fred had weakened to a depression by its spin over Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where it knocked out power to some 400,000 customers and caused flooding that forced officials to shut part of the country’s aqueduct system, interrupting water service for hundreds of thousands of people. Local officials reported hundreds of people were evacuated and some buildings were damaged.

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Rodriguez reported from Havana.

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