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Tropical Storm Debby Soaks Florida

As the first major storm of 2012 to make landfall, Tropical Storm Debby socked it to the state of Florida over the weekend, bringing high winds and torrential rains to most of the Sunshine State, and the bad news is that little movement is expected over the course of the next couple of days.

This is one of the biggest problems commonly found with large storms, the penchant for remaining stationary for long periods of time, which allows them to dump even more rain on already saturated ground. The potential for flooding problems to homes and businesses increases almost exponentially. Debby is especially unpredictable due to weak steering currents that drive the storm in a given direction.

For now, the storm remains poised over Florida, with maximum sustained winds around 50 mph, with some stronger gusts expected. Tropical storm force winds extend almost 200 miles outward from the center of the storm, and tropical storm warnings are in effect for areas east of the Florida-Alabama border to the Suwannee River area of Florida. Tropical storm conditions are expected to remain across most of Florida today (Monday). Areas of Alabama are also under tropical storm warnings.

Debby has also spawned a few isolated tornadoes, which have caused water damage to property and knocked down power lines in some areas. At least one interstate bridge was closed due to high winds near Tampa Bay.

If there is good news out of all of this, it is that Debby is not expected to reach hurricane status, or even strengthen appreciably over the coming days. Most storms weaken when they make landfall, eventually blowing themselves out as the warm water that powers them is no longer available.

Debby has also shut down almost a quarter of all offshore crude oil production in the Gulf, with BP shutting down all of its production facilities in advance of the storm. The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the only US port for handling the largest oil tankers, ceased operation due to the rough seas. Other production companies also shut down or severely curtailed oil production until a better idea of what the storm is going to do could be assembled.

One area that hasn’t been affected by Debby is vacation plans. Many of Florida’s beaches were extremely active as late as Sunday, even as Debby was settling in over much of the state. There was no rain in many areas, just a lot of wind and fast moving dark clouds. Tourists were advised to stay out of the water due to strong surf conditions. Many beach communities went ahead and gathered in beach chairs and umbrellas as a precaution against an unusually high tide.

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