South Alabama prepares for soggy Fay

Published 8:11 pm Thursday, August 21, 2008

MOBILE – Emergency management officials warily eyed Tropical Storm Fay Thursday, saying the storm could bring several days of heavy rain to south Alabama if it continues on a path predicted by forecasters.

The National Weather Service projected that the storm would move across the Florida panhandle and southern Alabama over the weekend, bringing rain to Alabama starting Saturday. However, the outcome of such predictions often varies, and the storm has already proven to be erratic.

National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Garmon in Mobile said Fay could dump 8-15 inches of rain on the coastal area, depending on how fast the storm moves, and cause significant flooding.

“It won’t be damaging wind, we don’t think,” he said Thursday. But, “it’s not going to be a good weekend for coming down here and going boating.”

Mobile County Emergency Management Agency Director Walt Dickerson said Fay, still lingering over Florida, could be downgraded to a tropical depression if it reaches Mobile.

“We’re not taking it lightly,” he said.

He said emergency equipment to handle potential flooding stands ready for use.

Dickerson said EMA officials will meet Friday morning to continue preparations, with plans to open some storm shelters if needed.

Fay arrives at the end of summer tourist season on the Alabama Gulf coast when students have returned to school.

Keith Kimbrough, who operates Sky High Parasail in Gulf Shores, said Labor Day is about the last moneymaking weekend for his business. So a tropical storm this weekend won’t hurt business that much.

“The season is pretty much done. But we’re still taking phone calls,” he added.

Farmers, meanwhile, are concerned that Fay’s downpours could rot some cotton î unless the sun breaks through soon after the storm passes î and hamper corn harvests.

As Fay approaches, a report by the U.S. Drought Monitor said there are no exceptional drought areas in Alabama. There was a reduction in extreme drought conditions statewide this week from 15 to 13 percent, the report said. Those areas are mostly concentrated in central and northeast counties.

“We still have pockets of drought in the state,” said cotton expert Dale Monks of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

But he said this year’s rainfall has improved drought conditions over the last few years and produced an exceptional soybean crop.

Extension System peanut expert Kris Balkcom said Fay probably won’t damage the peanut crop in southeast Alabama because the peanuts are not ready to harvest. He said rain would help them. He said it was dry at planting time for about eight weeks, but rainfall has been adequate.