Tropical Storm Debby, its accompanying winds and rains brought flooding to parts of Florida. Rick Scott, the state's governor, declared a state of emergency. The storm is expected to travel further inland as the week progresses.
Tropical Storm Debby lashed parts of Florida with driving rains and high winds on Monday, threatening to trigger more flooding and tornadoes as it hovered off the state's northern Gulf of Mexico coast.
With tropical storm-force winds extending outward up to 230 miles (370 km) from its center off the northwest coastal town of Apalachicola late Monday afternoon, forecasters said Debby menaced a broad swath of inland territory with flash flooding from torrential downpours.
Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency and a tropical storm warning was in effect along much of the Gulf coastline, from the Florida Panhandle down through the central west coast.
"Because of the broad impact of Tropical Storm Debby, virtually every county in Florida could be affected," Scott said in a statement announcing the statewide emergency.
"Some communities are already grappling with flooding, wind damage and electrical outages," said Scott, who ordered all state agencies, including the
Florida National Guard, to provide any necessary assistance requested by local governments.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said Debby, the first named storm of 2012 to move into the Gulf of Mexico, was packing top sustained winds of about 45 miles per hour (72 kph) and forecasters predicted little change in strength over the next couple of days.
Over the weekend, the storm idled about a quarter of U.S. offshore oil and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, based on figures issued by U.S. offshore regulators.
But on Monday, big offshore Gulf of Mexico drillers like BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell began returning staff to offshore platforms.
Forecast models show Debby making landfall along the northern Florida Gulf Coast by Thursday. It could dump more than a foot (30 cm) of rain in some areas of the state, with isolated amounts of more than two feet (64 cm) in north Florida, the hurricane center said.