First tropical storm of the season, Andrea, forms

By The Associated Press

MIAMI — The first tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, Andrea, formed Wednesday over the Gulf of Mexico and was expected to bring wet weather to parts of Florida’s west coast over the next few days.

Forecasters issued a tropical storm warning for a swath of Florida’s west coast starting at Boca Grande, an island to the northwest of Fort Myers, and ending in the Big Bend area of the state.

In Alabama, authorities said that 13 people had to be rescued from rough surf kicked up by the storm on Wednesday at beaches in two coastal towns. Most of those rescued didn’t require medical treatment.

Andrea (AN’-dree-ah) had maximum sustained winds near 40 miles per hour as of 8 p.m., and winds are forecast to reach 45 mph over the next day. It was located about 300 miles southwest of Tampa. A watch has been issued for most of northeast Florida up to North Carolina.

Andrea was moving to the north at about 3 miles per hour and forecasters expected the storm to continue moving northeast at a faster speed on Thursday.

The center of Andrea was expected to reach Florida’s coast on Thursday afternoon, then travel over land and bring foul weather to parts of Georgia and the Carolinas by Friday. Forecasters say Andrea could bring three to six inches of rain to parts of Florida and Georgia, with isolated areas seeing as much as eight inches.

In Florida, Gulf Islands National Seashore closed its campgrounds and the road that runs through the popular beach-front park on Wednesday. The national seashore abuts Pensacola Beach and the park road frequently floods during heavy rains. On Pensacola Beach, condominium associations asked people to remove furniture on high balconies because of the expected high winds and beach lifeguards warned tourists of possible high surf.

A forecast map predicts the storm will continue along the East Coast through the weekend before heading out to sea again, though a storm’s track is often hard to predict days in advance.

A National Hurricane Center advisory also says coastal areas north of Tampa could also see storm surge of several feet.