Tropical Storm Alberto hovers off SC

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Tropical Storm Alberto hovered off the South Carolina and Georgia coasts on Sunday, canceling tourist cruises, producing showers along the coast and serving as a reminder that the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season is just around the corner.

The first storm of the season that officially begins June 1 was not expected to approach landfall on the Carolinas’ coast, but it had prompted a tropical storm watch and forecasters warned that it could produce high winds, heavy surf, rip currents and scattered rain across the region.

“It’s making the closest approach to the coastline now, so the impacts shouldn’t be much different than what we are already seeing,” said Jonathan Lamb, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston, S.C.

At 5 p.m. Eastern, the National Hurricane Center said Alberto was about 130 miles (210 km) south of Charleston. It has maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (72 kph).

It’s currently moving southwest at 6 mph (10 kph), but forecasters expect it to turn northeast sometime Monday.

A tropical storm watch that was in effect for the South Carolina coast from the Savannah River to the South Santee River was dropped Sunday afternoon without tropical storm conditions reaching the coast.

A few rain bands from Alberto reached Hilton Head Island and moved south to near Jacksonville, Fla., on Sunday but they moved through in less than an hour. Winds weren’t expected to reach higher than 30 mph at the beaches, Lamb said. From Charleston to the north, even less of an impact was expected.

The hurricane center said the storm was expected to slow down through Sunday, then begin turning northeast and heading farther out to sea sometime Monday.

Alberto was named a tropical storm Saturday upon forming in the Atlantic. It was the third tropical storm to form before the official June 1 start of the hurricane season in the past 31 years.

Forecasters said there is no evidence that early-forming storms mean more tropical storms and hurricane for the rest of the season, especially with storms like Alberto that form from leftover weather fronts and low pressure systems moving off the mainland into the Atlantic.

“It’s anomalous for sure, but there’s really no indication this gives us any idea what the hurricane season is going to be like as a whole,” Lamb said.

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