Tropical Storm Debby, Blamed for 1 Death So Far, Heads for Florida Coast

Tropical Storm Debby meandered slowly to the Florida coast on Sunday.

Slow-moving Tropical Storm Debby's outer bands lashed Florida with rain and kicked up rough surf off Alabama on Sunday, prompting storm warnings for those states and causing at least one death. Photo: John Spade/Flickr

The expansive, stalled Tropical Storm Debby lashed Florida on Sunday, bringing apparent tornadoes in the central part of the state that killed one woman.

The woman was found dead in a home in Venus, located in the middle of the state roughly between Port St. Lucie and Sarasota.

In Alabama, a swimmer who went missing off the coast of Orange Beach is presumed drowned, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

According to Reuters, Debby, the first named storm of 2012 to enter the Gulf of Mexico, was centered about 115 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola, Florida and was nearly stationary, the National Hurricane Center said in its 7 p.m. CDT (0000 GMT) update.

The NHC announced Debby is expected to hit the Florida Panhandle near Panama City on Thursday as a tropical storm.

“This forecast remains uncertain due to weak steering currents,” the NHC said.

“Little movement is expected during the next couple of days, but this forecast remains uncertain due to weak steering currents,” the Miami-based center said. “Some gradual strengthening is possible during the next 48 hours.”

Debby already has dumped heavy rain on parts of Florida and spawned some isolated tornadoes, causing damage to homes and knocking down power lines, writes CBS News.

High winds forced the closure of an interstate bridge that spans Tampa Bay and links St. Petersburg with areas to the southeast. Residents in several counties near the crook of Florida’s elbow were urged to leave low-lying neighborhoods because of the threat of flooding.

The NHC maintained a storm warning for the Mississippi-Alabama border, extended warnings for Florida’s northwest coast to Englewood, and discontinued warnings for the Louisiana coast. Residents were warned to expect storm conditions within 36 hours.

“Tropical storm conditions are already near or over portions of the northeast Gulf Coast and are expected to reach the remainder of the warning area tonight,” the forecasters warned.

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

Shell said in a statement Sunday morning that it had evacuated 360 staff the previous day and was planning further evacuations.

According to CNN, BP spokesman Brett Clanton said early Sunday evening that “we’ve evacuated the majority of our offshore personnel in the Gulf of Mexico” due to Tropical Storm Debby. “Those unable to be evacuated will shelter in place for the storm,” he said.

ExxonMobil said it has “evacuated nonessential personnel” from its offshore facilities and is preparing to evacuate the rest.

U.S. officials warned Gulf Coast residents to watch the storm given its shifting forecast track. “History has taught us that storm tracks can change quickly and unexpectedly,” said Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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 receive 10 to 15 inches of rain, with some areas getting as much as 25.

“Given the recent heavy rainfall and wet soil conditions, these additional amounts will exacerbate the threat of flooding across portions of the central and eastern Gulf coast,” the weather service said.

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