Tropical Storm Warning issued for Tampa Bay area

TAMPA - The National Hurricane Center has issued a Tropical Storm Warning for the Tampa Bay area.  The region previously was under a Tropical Storm Watch.

The Tampa Bay region is under a Tropical Storm Warning and a Tornado Watch has been extended until 11 p.m. for the following counties: Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Pasco, Polk, Hernando, Citrus, Highlands.

The warning extends from the Suwannee River south to Englewood.

At 2 p.m., the center of Debby was located about 50 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola and drifting slowly to the northeast at 3 mph. 

Computer models are in stark disagreement over Debby's path, posing a challenge for forecasters.

Highest sustained winds were 45 mph with higher gusts. Little change in intensity is expected over the next day or so.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has declared a statewide emergency because of Tropical Storm Debby.

The statewide emergency in Florida means that the state can waive or suspend certain state laws to respond to the storm. It also means that price-gouging laws take effect.

A Tornado Watch is in effect until 2 p.m. for the following counties: Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Pasco, Polk, Hernando, Citrus and Highland.

The position and slow movement of the system means more rain for the Tampa Bay area.  Nearly a foot of rain has been measured at Tampa International Airport over the past day or so.

The storm has already killed at least one person after apparent tornadoes struck central Florida, officials said.

The storm packed maximum sustained winds of almost 50 mph, and tropical-storm-force winds -- those 39 mph or stronger -- extended 200 miles out from its center.

Debby is expected to dump a total of 10 to 15 inches of rain over the Florida panhandle and northern Florida, with isolated amounts of up to 25 inches, the hurricane center said.

"Given the recent heavy rainfall and wet soil conditions, these additional amounts will exacerbate the flash flood threat across portions of northern Florida and southern Alabama," the weather agency said.

On Sunday, two apparent twisters destroyed four homes in 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 roughly between Port St. Lucie and Sarasota, Rybinski said.

In Madeira Beach, about 10 miles east of St. Petersburg, Flordia, Debbie Ponceti said her front lawn has been reduced to mush and the water in a lagoon near her house was steadily rising. There had been no let up in the in the rain, which is forecast to continue through Tuesday.

"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 mph to 50 mph. "The rain was coming down sideways," Eversole said. "(It) felt like glass."
A forecast track showed Debby remaining a tropical storm as it eventually moves northward and makes landfall, possibly Thursday, on the Florida panhandle. But forecasters warned Debby's track remained uncertain and said the "new official track remains a low-confidence forecast."

The storm has raised concerns for those working on 596 manned oil and gas production platforms throughout the Gulf, run by various companies.


One of them, Shell, said Sunday that it had evacuated 360 staff the previous day and was planning further evacuations. ExxonMobil said it has "evacuated nonessential personnel" from its offshore facilities and is 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.

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.

"We want to be ahead of that as a precautionary measure," Nungesser said. The area is forecast to get a storm surge of 2 to 4 feet, he said -- "with a direct hit, if it goes up a little bit more, we'll have those levees topped."

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