Debby forecast to soak Florida as it crosses state
POSTED: Monday, June 25, 2012 - 11:15am
UPDATED: Monday, June 25, 2012 - 4:36pm
FLORIDA (CNN) — Tropical Storm Debby was dumping unrelenting rain on portions of Florida on Monday, causing flooding amid high winds as forecasters changed its projected path once again.
The storm has already killed at least one person after apparent tornadoes struck central Florida on Sunday, officials said.
As of 10 a.m. Monday, Debby was centered about 75 miles south of Apalachicola in the Florida Panhandle, the National Hurricane Center said.
The storm had weakened slightly, with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph. However, tropical-storm-force winds -- those 39 mph or stronger -- extended 230 miles out from its center. After being nearly stationary overnight, Debby began inching northeast Monday at about 3 mph.
"Tropical storm conditions will continue over portions of the Florida Gulf Coast today," forecasters said.
Debby is expected to dump a total of 10 to 20 inches of rain over northern and central Florida, with 25 inches possible in some areas, forecasters said. A total of about 5 to 15 inches of rain is possible across coastal southeastern Georgia and extreme southeastern South Carolina, according to the hurricane center.
Total rain accumulations of 5 to 10 inches are expected over central Florida and southeast Georgia into coastal South Carolina, with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches possible, forecasters said.
The hurricane center narrowed the warning area for Debby on Monday, discontinuing a warning from the Florida-Alabama border to Destin, Florida. A tropical storm warning was issued for the Florida Gulf Coast stretching from Destin to Englewood, Florida.
The storm was expected to continue moving slowly northeast or east-northeast over the next couple of days, forecasters said. Little change in strength was expected.
The revised forecast track showed Debby remaining a tropical storm until it makes landfall early Thursday in Apalachee Bay, Florida -- in the bend of the state where the Florida Panhandle ends. The storm is then expected to cross the state of Florida and head into the Atlantic Ocean south of Jacksonville as a tropical depression on Saturday.
Seminole, Florida, received more than 10 inches of rain on Sunday, according to preliminary 24-hour totals from the National Weather Service. Pinellas Park, Florida, received nearly 9 inches, and the Apalachicola, Florida, airport received 8.65 inches, according to the weather service. The Ocala, Florida, airport measured nearly 8 inches.
Other preliminary rainfall totals included 6.68 inches in Wakulla, Florida; 6.58 inches in Orange Springs, Florida; and 6.27 inches in St. Petersburg.
Rain is in the forecast for the Tampa area through Wednesday, according to the weather service.
A few tornadoes were possible Monday across the eastern Florida Panhandle, the Florida peninsula and southern Georgia, forecasters said. A large swath of Florida was under a tornado watch until Monday afternoon. Numerous flood watches and warnings were also posted.
On Sunday, two apparent twisters destroyed four homes in Florida's Highland County, said Gloria Rybinski, emergency operations spokeswoman for the county.
A woman was found dead in a home in Venus, located in the middle of the state between Port St. Lucie and Sarasota, Rybinski said.
Damage was also reported in St. Pete Beach from a suspected tornado that witnesses said came ashore as a waterspout from the Intracoastal Waterway in the Pass-A-Grille area Sunday night, CNN affiliate WFLA reported.
Laura Miller and Brenda Pace were sitting in their Pass-A-Grille home watching a baseball game Sunday night when the weather -- which had been bad all day -- worsened.
"The winds started picking up," Miller said. "We heard the proverbial noise -- the train -- the transformer blew, the windows started busting out. It was just very chaotic, all the glass flying, the debris flying into the house. It was pretty intense."
The two told CNN they looked for a safe place to hide and went to a ground-floor bathroom, but the door wouldn't open. "We managed to get between the refrigerator and the pantry area and just ride it out," Miller said.
Pace said she was still in shock, but "it's amazing we got out without a scratch."
Two people had minor injuries, said St. Pete Beach Fire Marshal Ernest Hand. Eight properties in the area sustained major damage and 24 had minor damage. "We were lucky," he said.
"It was so windy and rainy, I couldn't go outside to look," resident Michael Hamm told CNN affiliate WFLA. "Ten or 15 minutes later, when I did, I noticed the roof was gone over the deck, the picnic tables had blown off, the railing was gone, the electricity was off. ... We didn't get hurt so we're very lucky."
About 6,300 homes in Pinellas County were without power, said spokesman Dave Baker, and officials hope to have electricity restored Monday. "A great deal of localized flooding with scattered wind damage is reported," county emergency management officials said.
The Sunshine Skyway bridge, which stretches over Tampa Bay and connects Bradenton with St. Petersburg, Florida, was closed Sunday because of high winds and remained closed Monday, Pinellas County officials said.
Winds in the area have been clocked at 20 to 30 mph with higher gusts, according to CNN affiliate Bay News 9. Seas were between 12 and 15 feet.
Residents of a Tampa retirement home were being evacuated Monday, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said. The Sunrise Village Retirement Home "is located in an area that is prone to flooding and the water is up to the building right now," authorities said in a statement Monday morning. About 90 residents were being moved to other Sunrise Village facilities, the sheriff's office said.
In Madeira Beach, which lies on the Gulf of Mexico about 10 miles west of St. Petersburg, Debbie Ponceti said her front lawn had been reduced to mush and the water in a lagoon near her house was steadily rising.
"Typically when a thunderstorm happens, it is over in 20 minutes," Ponceti said Sunday. "But this has been going on all day."
In nearby Redington Beach, Keri Ann Eversole said winds appeared to be blowing between 40 and 50 mph.
"The rain was coming down sideways," Eversole said. It "felt like glass."
Video from the Tampa area showed drivers inching through water on a flooded street Sunday night, with at least one stranded. The floodwaters were beginning to recede Monday morning, but several stalled cars remained on flooded roadways, CNN affiliate WTSP reported.
Forecasters warned the combination of a storm surge and the tide would cause coastal areas to be inundated with water.
An area from Apalachee Bay to Waccasassa Bay, Florida, could see a 3- to 5-foot surge, while Florida's west coast south of Waccasassa Bay could see 1 to 3 feet. An area stretching from southeastern Louisiana to Apalachee Bay, Florida could get a 1- to 3-foot surge, according to the hurricane center.
The storm has raised concerns for those working on 596 manned oil and gas production platforms throughout the Gulf, run by various companies.
Shell said Sunday that it had evacuated 360 staff members the previous day and was planning further evacuations. However, given the forecast shift that showed Debby steering clear of Louisiana, Shell said Monday it was in the process of redeploying staff. "By end of day Tuesday, we will be back to normal operations across the Gulf," the company said.
ExxonMobil said Sunday it had "evacuated nonessential personnel" from its offshore facilities and was preparing to evacuate the rest.
And BP spokesman Brett Clanton said Sunday evening that the company has evacuated the "majority of our offshore personnel in the Gulf of Mexico" due to Debby. "Those unable to be evacuated will shelter in place for the storm," he said.
Debby's uncertain track has some in Louisiana worried. Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a pre-emptive state of emergency on Sunday.
In Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana's southernmost parish, authorities used baskets and tubes to keep Highway 23 -- the parish's main evacuation and emergency route -- free of water should the 4-foot levees be topped, said Billy Nungesser, parish president. The levees were being sandbagged as an additional precaution.
-- CNN's Sarah Dillingham, Meridith Edwards, Kim Segal, contributed to this report.