Tropical Storm Beryl brings wind, rain to Florida

Associated Press Modified: May 28, 2012 at 1:00 am •  Published: May 28, 2012
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Tropical Storm Beryl moved across northeastern Florida early Monday, bringing drenching rains, driving winds and the threat of flooding to the southeastern U.S. coast, forecasters said.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami reported that the center of Beryl made landfall near Jacksonville Beach at around 12:10 a.m., with near-hurricane-strength winds of 70 mph (113 kph).

The weather system was expected to continue dumping rain over parts of Florida and Georgia on Monday. It should weaken as it moves inland Monday and Tuesday, and as a frontal system comes down from the Great Lakes, Beryl will move out into the Atlantic Ocean.

"We're seeing about the best that Beryl has right now as far as its winds are concerned, with winds about 70 mph," forecaster Al Sandrik said in an audio briefing late Sunday. "The model shows significant weakening of the storm in 12 hours."

In the meantime, tropical storm warnings remained in effect early Monday for coastal areas from Flagler Beach, Fla. to Edisto Beach, S.C. At 2 a.m., the storm was 5 miles (8 kilometers) east of Jacksonville, Fla. and winds had decreased to 65 mph (105 kph). Tropical storm force winds were extending outward up to 115 miles (185 kilometers).

Beryl was expected to bring 4 to 8 inches of rain to parts, with some areas getting as much as 12 inches. Forecasters said the storm surge and high tide could bring 2 to 4 feet of flooding in northeastern Florida and Georgia, and 1 to 2 feet in southern South Carolina.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott urged Florida residents in the affected areas to "stay alert and aware."

"Tropical Storm Beryl is expected to bring heavy rain and winds, and it is vital to continue to monitor local news reports and listen to the advice of local emergency management officials," Scott said in a statement early Sunday evening.

The weather system could complicate holiday traffic on Monday after wrecking some Memorial Day weekend plans on Sunday. It caused shoreline campers to pack up and head inland and led to the cancellation of some events.

Campers at Cumberland Island, Ga., which is reachable only by boat, were told to leave by 4:45 p.m. Sunday. The island has a number of undeveloped beaches and forests popular with campers.

However, many people seemed determined to make the best of the soggy forecast.

At Greyfield Inn, a 19th-century mansion and the only private inn on Cumberland Island, the rooms were nearly full Sunday and everyone was planning to stay put through the wet weather, said Dawn Drake, who answered the phone at the inn's office on the Florida coast.

In Jacksonville, Fla., Sunday's jazz festival and Memorial Day ceremony were canceled. Workers were also out clearing tree limbs and debris that could be tossed about by the storm's winds. Winds had already knocked down tree limbs and power lines in parts of coastal Georgia, leaving hundreds without electricity.

But business was booming at the Red Dog Surf Shop in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., where customers flocked to buy boards and wax in anticipation of the storm's high waves. Officials along the coast warned of rip currents, waves and high tides — all of which can be dangerous but also tend to attract adventurous surfers. The waters had already become dangerous in South Carolina, where rescuers were searching for a missing swimmer.

The Coast Guard said three people and a dog were rescued from a sinking recreational vehicle by crews in Charleston Harbor late Sunday morning.

"There were wave heights of roughly four feet, the waves started depositing water in the boat and the boat started to get overwhelmed, it started to sink," Petty Officer Christopher Evanson, a Coast Guard spokesman, told the Associated Press. "The Coast Guard was able to get on scene, get alongside the boat and disembark the passengers.

Evanson said the Guard is "trying to convince boaters and swimmers alike to stay away from the water. It's very dangerous right now and we're trying to stay vigilant and we're out there trying to ensure that everybody is safe.

In Jacksonville Beach, Fernando Sola said business was booming at his Happy Faces Ice Cream truck. A bus- full of tourists from South Carolina had stopped to buy some ice cream and watch the storm waters churn.

"There are actually more people than on a normal day. It's working out great," said Sola, taking a few moments away from scooping ice cream to people lined up in front of his truck.

Steady, heavy winds kicked up sand across the area, forcing onlookers to shield themselves with towels.

Jessica Smith and Chester Jaheeb decided to brave the waters despite many warnings for people to stay out. Jaheeb, who was born in India but lives in Jacksonville, said he had never experienced a tropical storm before.

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