Tropical Storm Alberto not seen to gain strength, forecasters say

MIAMI Sun May 20, 2012 10:58am EDT

MIAMI (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Alberto churned slowly toward the South Carolina coast on Sunday where heavy rain and dangerous surf are expected from the beach resort of Myrtle Beach south to Savannah, Georgia, forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Bringing an early start to the Atlantic hurricane season, Alberto rose to tropical storm strength on Saturday and by Sunday morning was about 95 miles south-southeast of Charleston, according to the latest update by the hurricane center in Miami. It carried maximum sustained winds near 50 miles per hour.

Alberto was moving slowly west-southwest with tropical storm force winds extending about 70 miles from the center, but the hurricane center added, "little change in strength is forecast during the next 48 hours."

Dangerous surf conditions were predicted along the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina through Monday before the storm makes a slow turn to the northeast, making its way along the U.S. mid-Atlantic seaboard before dissipating in about five days.

That would keep it well away from the Gulf of Mexico, where U.S. oil and gas operations are clustered, but could bring squalls and rough surf to the Carolina coast.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to November 30, but storms outside that time frame are not uncommon. Alberto was the earliest-forming Atlantic storm since 2003, when Tropical Storm Ana formed more than five weeks before the official start of the season, the hurricane center said.

(Additonal reporting by Jane Sutton; Editing by Jackie Frank)

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