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Tropical Storm Colin churns toward Florida

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CLEARWATER, Florida — Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday as an approaching tropical storm threatened to bring heavy rains and flooding to his state.

Tropical Storm Colin is about 165 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola, Florida, according to the latest update from the National Hurricane Center.

It’s packing maximum sustained winds of 50 mph and moving north-northeast at 17 mph.

Colin is expected to pick up speed and could make landfall in Florida’s Big Bend area in the late afternoon or early evening hours Monday, the hurricane center said.

Already the storm is pelting parts of Florida’s Gulf Coast with rain. And more is coming.

“It’s important to note that the strongest winds and heaviest rains are well removed from the center,” the hurricane center said.

Flooding possible

The rainfall could be welcome news for some as the storm replenishes aquifers in the state that have been low on water, CNN meteorologists said.

“Some of this rain could be 6 inches deep. Now many of these areas have been dry, so we’ll take the rain,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said. “You just don’t want the flooding with this.”

That’s something to watch out for, forecasters from the hurricane center warned.

“The combination of a storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters,” the center said.

Heavy rainfall could cause flash flooding, Myers said, as the storm moves across Florida, southern Georgia and South Carolina, which is already saturated.

Tropical storm warnings are in effect from Indian Pass to Englewood, Florida, on the Gulf and from the Altamaha Sound in Georgia to the Sebastian Inlet in Florida on the Atlantic.

Whatever happens next, it will be fast.

“This is a fairly quick-moving storm,” Myers said.

It’s expected to hug the U.S. East Coast, pummeling the Carolinas as it heads northeast Tuesday.

By Wednesday afternoon, forecasters said, the storm will be in the Atlantic Ocean.

Making the best of it

As the storm started to roll in Monday, Cliff York and his family leaned over a wall at their beach hotel in Clearwater to take in the scene.

This isn’t what they had in mind when they left Vincennes, Indiana, for a Florida vacation.

“Sounds like the weather is better in Indiana than it is here,” York joked. “Maybe we just should have stayed there.”

But York said they’ll still find a way to relax.

“We got two sunny days in Orlando,” he said. “Now we have to make the best of what we can while we’re here.”

Earliest third storm on record

Colin is the third tropical storm to form this year in the Atlantic. It’s the earliest that three named storms have hit the region, besting the previous record — which was set in 1887 — by about a week.

Hurricane season officially began June 1. But tropical systems can form during any month of the year.

This year, two named storms formed before the season’s official start.

Alex became a named storm on January 13, the first Atlantic hurricane to form in the month of January since 1938.

Bonnie drenched South Carolina’s coast last month.

Does it mean anything to see storms forming so early?

Not necessarily, forecasters say.

“These first three storms have been very weak systems, even though Bonnie produced a lot of rain in South Carolina,” CNN meteorologist Tom Sater said. “This really means very little when it comes down to how this year may turn out.”