After baking in a spring heat wave the past few days, the Florida Panhandle and south Alabama are due for some relief by this weekend.
But that relief could be a double-edged sword.
“We could have some fairly significant flash flooding; there’s not a flash flood watch or anything like that now, but it’s likely by Friday into Saturday [we’ll] probably have some flash flood watches out,” said Don Shepherd, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Mobile.
“Six to eight inches or so, that’s the average; many areas could see more than that,” Shepherd says. “And there may even be some heavier totals more centered offshore; but some of that could slip onshore as well. So we could see some higher amounts.”
That, in turn, is expected to bring an elevated flash flood threat across the region, especially by Friday and Saturday. The culprit, says Shepherd, is a front moving in from the north that will stall out just to the north of the area, joined by moisture coming up from a tropical system in the Gulf of Mexico near the Texas coast.
“And all of that moisture and rain associated with that system getting entrained in the flow that’s going to be coming in from the south and west – out ahead of that cold front – is going to bring all that moisture that’s currently over southeastern Texas and the Gulf is going to lift it up our way as we approach the weekend.”
With also a chance of thunderstorms in the forecast, Shepherd urges residents to stay alert.
“Some strong storms could be in the offing here as we get into Friday and into Saturday, oftentimes when you have such a moist atmospheric profile,” says Shepherd. “But I think the main threat as we go through Thursday and into the weekend, will be the heavy rain threat and potential flash flooding.”
One of the hazards related to heavy rainfall is driving through it.
“Slow down and make sure that your headlights are on; that makes you a lot more visible in inclement weather,” says Lt. Eddie Elmore at the Florida Highway Patrol. Among the dos and don’ts when driving in heavy rain is one large don’t: don’t use your flashing hazard lights when your vehicle is in motion.
“That’s actually illegal to do that in the state of Florida; it actually interferes with your blinkers,” said Elmore. “And make sure they increase their following distance between vehicles; once the vehicle in front of you passes a fixed object, count to five to six seconds; then [when] you pass the same fixed object, you’re at a pretty good following distance at that point.”
Another hazard is hydroplaning — when the tires of a vehicle begin to ride on top of standing water instead of the surface of the road. Elmore says some road surfaces are conducive to hydroplaning.
“Ruts form within the roadway; those ruts capture water,” Elmore says. “That increases the chance of hydroplaning. So the faster you go, the higher risk you are. So it’s very important to reduce your speed.”
But even the most careful driving in a storm carries risk, including when the car goes into a skid, or a “fish tail.” PHP’s Eddie Elmore says the first rule is – don’t panic, and then don’t hit the brakes.
“Just steer the vehicle towards the way that the vehicle is going; and that, most of the time, will straighten the vehicle out,” says Elmore. “It’s a natural reaction for a motorist to slam on the breaks, but if you steer into it, hopefully you’re come out of it.”
After the soggy weekend and first of next week, drier weather is expected to move into the area, according to Don Shepherd of NWS. He adds that this also signals the start of our typical summertime weather.
“It looks like as we go toward the middle, into the end of next week, we will be more into a typical summer-type pattern,” Shepherd says. “With relatively low rain chances but with afternoon and evening showers and storms, especially down in our area associated with a sea breeze.”
Temperatures should also moderate to more seasonal levels – daytime highs in the 80s, with lows around 70 degrees at night.