Tropical Storm Debby hits Florida's Big Bend area
Tropical Storm Debby is projected to cross the state as a depression. (National Hurricane Center / June 26, 2012)
At 8 p.m., the system was located just north of Cedar Key in the Big Bend region of Florida, moving northeast at 6 mph with sustained winds of 35 mph.
By 5 a.m. Wednesday, Debby was located about 25 miles southeast of St. Augustine, moving northeast at 10 mph and still bearing sustained winds of 35 mph.
Despite losing strength and organization, Debby remains a major rainmaker for the northern half of the state, causing widespread flooding, and should continue buffeting South Florida with gusty winds and scattered showers on Wednesday.
“Even on Thursday, with Debby probably being off east coast, we’ll have a chance of rain,” said meteorologist Robert Molleda of the National Weather Service in Miami. “It also should remain breezy.”
Officially, the South Florida Wednesday forecast calls for a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms and winds gusting to more than 30 mph.
Although forecasters had initially expected Debby to produce a rainy day on Tuesday, it instead was partly sunny but windy with gusts up to 40 mph, the result of the system’s southeast circulation.
The winds downed power lines and caused about 7,700 FPL customers to lose power, with 4,600 of those in Palm Beach County, 1,900 in Broward County and 1,200 in Miami-Dade County. Also, some traffic signals went dark in Fort Lauderdale and Lauderhill.
Debby winds also fanned a brush fire at Sugar Sand Park in Boca Raton, consuming about 5 acres of grass and vegetation before Boca Fire Rescue Services and the Florida Forestry Service brought it under control.
Debby is projected to cross the state, coming near Gainesville and St. Augustine, and re-emerge in the Atlantic on Wednesday. It is then forecast to restrengthen into a tropical storm on Thursday and curve northeast out to sea.
In the past three days, Debby has dumped up to two feet of rain in some areas of North and Central Florida, flooding streets and low-lying areas. The storm also spawned more than 20 tornadoes, damaging homes, downing trees and knocking out power.
On Tuesday, the Florida Highway Patrol closed portions of Interstate 10 in North Florida because of flooding. The storm also is responsible for at least one death on Sunday; a mother in Venus, a town west of Lake Okeechobee, was killed when a tornado hit her home.
Emergency officials called for voluntary evacuation of residents living in low-lying areas of Wakulla County, on Florida's Panhandle. And Gov. Rick Scott said the state is working to aid hard-hit communities.
“Because of the broad impact of Tropical Storm Debby, virtually every county in Florida could be affected. Some communities are already grappling with flooding, wind damage and electrical outages,” Scott said in a statement.
Federal help also is waiting in the wings. On Tuesday, President Obama called Scott to assure that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is ready to lend assistance. The president also expressed his condolences for the loss of life and extensive property damage.