Alberto Weakens to Depression, Moving North Across Alabama

Storm Alberto weakened to a subtropical depression, moving across central Alabama after making landfall in the Florida Panhandle and bringing heavy rains that threaten the U.S. South with economic losses of $1 billion.

Alberto was 30 miles (45 kilometers) west of Montgomery, Alabama, with winds of 30 miles per hour, down from 45 mph earlier, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said in an advisory at 5 a.m. New York time. It came ashore Monday near Laguna Beach, Florida.

Even as it weakens, Alberto is expected to deliver from two to six inches of rain as far north as the southern Great Lakes, according to the center. In some pockets of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, the deluge could amount to 12 inches, with flash flooding possible. A “tornado or two” may occur in the region from southern Kentucky to parts of Georgia, it said.

Still, some energy companies in the Gulf of Mexico have begun to resume operations. Chevron Corp. restored production at its Blind Faith and Petronius platforms, which it had halted over the weekend. Royal Dutch Shell Plc began sending workers back to its facilities in the eastern Gulf and will restart output at its Ram Powell hub once it’s verified as safe, according to an update posted on the company’s website.

Alberto is forecast to move over the Tennessee Valley on Tuesday, and into the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes region Wednesday and Thursday, the center said. Flood watches, warnings and advisories have stretched from the Gulf Coast to Indiana and southern Virginia. Governors in Florida, Mississippi and Alabama on Saturday declared states of emergency.

“From an economic standpoint most of the damage is already done, probably $600 or $700 million worth of lost economic activity due to rain, warnings and preparations,” said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler at Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia. He said the storm “might cause a couple hundred million in damage at worst” upon landfall, adding that there is still flooding potential.

Hardest hit will be small businesses that expected revenue from Memorial Day weekend tourists, Watson said.

On May 25, Exxon Mobil Corp. pulled non-essential personnel from its Lena oil production platform and Shell from Ram Powell. Most other energy companies left offshore crews in place as they watched 2018’s first Atlantic storm. Alberto formed several days ahead of the June 1 official start of the six-month Atlantic hurricane season.

Storms in the Gulf are closely watched because 5 percent of U.S. natural gas and 17 percent of crude-oil production comes out of the region, according to the Energy Information Administration. Onshore areas along the coast also account for about 45 percent of U.S. refining capacity and 51 percent of gas processing.