Storm Season Unleashed: Claudette Hits, but Bill Could Pack a Bigger Punch

After quiet start to hurricane season, three named storms came over the weekend.

Aug. 17, 2009— -- It is as if someone flicked the "on" switch this weekend. For 10 weeks, we had a hurricane season with no hurricanes.

But the last 30 hours brought three named storms, including Bill, the first Atlantic hurricane of the season.

The remnants of what was Tropical Storm Claudette is already wreaking havoc, and Bill is marching toward the U.S. East coast and could become a major hurricane by the end of the week. Current forecasts show Bill will turn north and may not make landfall.

Overnight in the Florida Panhandle, Claudette came ashore with winds of 50 miles an hour and more than 6 inches of rain forecast. The storm has been downgraded to a tropical depression but is still heading north over Alabama and Georgia, bringing heavy rains and high winds, but no major flooding or damage is expected.

Claudette was a classic "popup storm," simply appearing out of nowhere. Eighteen hours after popping up in the Gulf of Mexico, Claudette made landfall early Monday morning.

"I think Claudette is a warning shot," Accu-Weather's Joe Bastardi told ABC News. "The Gulf is more primed than usual for intensification this year."

Many Florida residents were caught by surprise.

"I'm just looking out for my boat, doing what I have to do to save it," sailor Paul Freudel told ABC News Sunday as he made preparations.

In Pensacola, on the Panhandle, the National Park Service closed low-lying roads.

"We may see some heavy rains as a result, but we don't expect any high winds or coastal flooding," John Dosh, manager of Emergency Management told The Associated Press. "This event is a good example of how quickly a tropical storm can develop. We won't always have a lot of warning. This is why citizens need to be prepared throughout hurricane season."

Ana, which had been the first named storm of the season, is already falling apart. Overnight Ana was downgraded to a tropical depression after encountering dry air, which is sapping her strength.

But just behind is Bill, the first hurricane to form this season in the Atlantic Ocean.

Bill is already a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of up to 75 mph, and the warm waters over the open Atlantic are fueling the storm even more. Bill is currently expected to grow into a major hurricane by the end of the week. A low-pressure trough is forming that could divert Bill's path out into the open waters and keep him from making landfall.

Hurricane Season Hits

Accu-Weather's Mark Mancuso said on "Good Morning America" that Bill is "heading to the west of Bermuda … any deviation in the path here could bring it closer to the east coast and closer to Bermuda with time. We'll have to wait later on into the week here. … It just depends how strong Bill gets."

Mancuso said even if Bill doesn't make landfall, "There will be a lot of wave action. There will be high tides, we could have dangerous swimming conditions at the very least along the East Coast."

This sudden explosion of activity has rocked the complacency out of at least some along the hurricane coast who had concluded that maybe they wouldn't need hurricane supplies this season.

Until now, this rainy season has been marked by sudden weather changes and intense rain showers, but no hurricanes.

Officially hurricane season begins June 1. The last time the first named storm came this late in the season was 1992. Hurricane Andrew made landfall as a ferocious Category 5, which is why experts warn that just because the storms are starting later doesn't mean the season is going to spare us.

"Typically, the latter part of the summer season … that's when we see most of our hurricane activity," Mancuso said. "Bill certainly has room to strengthen … what we have learned from Andrew is that it only takes one storm. Never let your guard down."

"The power of these storms, very dangerous, can cause lots of destruction," he said.

This morning Claudette has moved inland bringing heavy rains to Alabama and further north. As long as it doesn't do damage the rains are welcome. Many areas in the south are well below their seasonal averages and are in desperate need of a good soaking. The Associated Press contributed to this report.