by JENNIFER KAY
---- — MIAMI — The first named storm of the Atlantic season hammered Florida with rain, heavy winds, and tornadoes yesterday as it moved over land toward the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas, promising sloppy commutes and waterlogged vacation getaways through the beginning of the weekend.
The storm is expected to hit New England later today and into Saturday with briefly gusty winds and heavy downpours. Some 2 to 4 inches of rain was predicted along most of the East Coast from North Carolina to northern Massachusetts.
Tropical Storm Andrea was not expected to strengthen into a hurricane but forecasters warned it could spawn tornadoes and cause isolated flooding and storm surge before it loses steam over the next two days.
As of 8 p.m. EDT yesterday, Andrea was about 45 miles west of Gainesville after making landfall hours earlier in Florida’s Big Bend area. Its maximum sustained winds had fallen to 50 mphand it was moving northeast at 15 mph.
The storm was expected to lose steam by tomorrow as it moves through the northeastern United States, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said one of the biggest risks associated with the storm for Florida was the chance of tornadoes, eight of which had been confirmed yesterday across the state. Scott urged residents to remain vigilant.
“This one fortunately is a fast-moving storm,” he said. Slower-moving storms can pose a greater flood risk because they have more time to linger and dump rain.
Another threat to Florida’s coast was storm surge, said Eric Blake, a specialist at the Hurricane Center. The center said coastal areas from Tampa Bay north to the Aucilla River could see storm surge of 2 to 4 feet, if the peak surge coincides with high tide.
Gulf Islands National Seashore closed its campgrounds and the road that runs through the popular beach-front park Wednesday. The national seashore abuts Pensacola Beach and the park road frequently floods during heavy rains.
Altogether, 30 state parks closed their campgrounds in Florida.
In the Carolinas, Andrea’s biggest threat was heavy rain, with as much as 6 inches expected, the National Weather Service said.
Forecasters didn’t expect major problems, however, along the most vulnerable parts of the coast such as the Outer Banks, a popular tourist destination.
John Elardo, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Newport, N.C., said the storm would push major waves to the north and northeast, away from the Outer Banks, where a series of storms in the fall and winter wore away dunes and washed out portions of N.C. Highway 12, the only road connecting the barrier island to the mainland of North Carolina.
In Cuba, heavy rains associated with the storm system have soaked the western part of the island for the past several days, overflowing rivers and damaging crops. At least 30 towns were cut off by flooding, and more than 2,600 people sought refuge from the rising waters at relatives’ homes or state-run shelters, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported Thursday.