Debby's slow march through Gulf drenches Florida

Debby's slow march through Gulf drenches Florida

Flooding from Tropical Storm Debby in Florida Sunday, June 24, 2012


Associated Press

Posted on June 25, 2012 at 5:49 AM

Updated Monday, Jun 25 at 8:12 AM

MIAMI (AP) -- Tropical Storm Debby is spinning drenching rains over northern Florida as it hangs nearly stationary over the Gulf of Mexico, making its biggest threat Monday flooding rather than winds.

A tropical storm warning is in effect along the Florida Panhandle as the storm parks offshore. Yet even with the storm's center far from land, it's lashing Florida with heavy rains and spawned isolated tornadoes that killed at least one person. And in Alabama, crews plan to continue searching for a South Carolina man who disappeared in rough surf.

The storm has prompted the closing of a bridge to Florida's St. George Island, a popular vacation spot.

Authorities in the Tampa Bay area are asking people to stay away from flooded streets. Some streets were under water Monday, while others were blocked with debris.

Residents in several counties near the crook of Florida's elbow were urged to leave low-lying neighborhoods because of the threat of flooding. High winds forced the closure of an interstate bridge that spans Tampa Bay and links St. Petersburg with areas to the southeast. In several locations, homes and businesses were damaged by high winds authorities believe were from tornadoes.

Debby's center was essentially stationary about 90 miles (145 kilometers) south-southwest of Apalachicola, Fla., early Monday. Debby's top sustained winds decreased to near 50 mph (85 kph). The forecast map indicated the storm could inch forward through the week, eventually coming ashore over the Panhandle. However, a storm's path is difficult to discern days in advance.

Underscoring the unpredictable nature of tropical storms, forecasters discontinued a tropical storm warning Sunday afternoon for Louisiana after forecast models indicated Debby wasn't likely to turn west. At one point, forecasters expected the storm to come ashore in that state.

"There are always going to be errors in making predictions. There is never going to be a perfect forecast," said Chris Landsea, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center.

A major concern will be flooding from heavy rainfall. The storm is moving slowly, allowing its clouds more time to unload rain. A public advisory said parts of northern Florida could get 10 to 15 inches of rain, with some areas getting as much as 25 inches.

The Highlands County Sheriff's Office said in a news release that several tornadoes moved through the area southeast of Tampa, damaging homes.

Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Nell Hays said a woman was found dead in a house in Venus that was destroyed in the storm. A child found in the same house was taken to the hospital. No further information was available on the child's condition or either person's age.

Authorities urged residents to leave low-lying neighborhoods in Franklin, Taylor and Wakulla counties because of flooding. Shelters were open in the area.

Wind tore the roof off a marina in St. Pete Beach, and a pier was heavily damaged, said Tom Iovino, a Pinellas County government spokesman. He said no injuries were reported.

In Orange Beach, Ala., a 32-year-old man disappeared Sunday in rough surf kicked up by the storm, said Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Torry James. Further information wasn't immediately available.

As of Sunday, 23 percent of oil and gas production in the region had been suspended, according to a government hurricane response team. Employees have been evacuated from 13 drilling rigs and 61 production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

The storm was not expected to result in higher oil and gas prices.

"It's largely a non-event for oil," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service.