MIAMI (AP) – Tropical Storm Debby whipped Florida with bands of drenching rain Monday while its center was nearly stationary in the Gulf of Mexico. Its slow progress meant the most pressing threat from the storm was flooding, not wind.
Tropical storm warnings were in effect for parts of Florida as the storm parked offshore. A tropical storm warning for the coast of Alabama was discontinued early Monday. Yet even with the storm’s center far from land, it lashed Florida with heavy rains and spawned isolated tornadoes that killed at least one person. Another person was missing in rough surf off Alabama.
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.
Authorities in the Tampa Bay area were asking residents and tourists to stay away from flooded streets. Some streets were still under water early Monday, while others were blocked with debris.
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.