Tropical storm Debby has been downgraded to a tropical depression. Florida residents and visitors have been forced to change plans due to flooding and high winds caused by the storm.
ST. GEORGE ISLAND, Fla.
Debby, the guest that wouldn't leave, is ruining things for a lot of other visitors even as it weakens to a tropical depression.
The National Hurricane Center said early Tuesday evening that the storm had been downgraded to a tropical depression with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph as it moved across Florida. But the storm system that lingered in the Gulf of Mexico for days before making landfall has still been making its presence felt.
Vacationers were wearing ponchos instead of swimsuits at the peak of the summer season because of the tropical storm, which has drenched Florida for at least four days straight like a giant shower head set up over the state's Gulf Coast. Debby has dumped as much as 26 inches of rain in some spots.
Disney World wasn't as crowded as usual, and one of its water parks closed because of the soggy, windy weather. Also, Sea World closed early on Monday.
Along the Florida Panhandle, where Debby sat offshore nearly motionless for days, the parking lot at the 100-room Buccaneer Inn was empty because of a power outage ahead of the usually big pre-July Fourth weekend.
"We've had bad luck on this island," said the inn's vice president, JoAnn Shiver. "We've had Dennis. We've had Katrina. We had the oil spill."
In a state where the biggest attractions are the sand and the sun, Debby forced many to make other plans.
Douglas and Carolyn Green of Nashville, Tenn., were supposed to spend a week on St. George Island with three generations of family, but arrived to find the electricity was out and the bridge closed to non-residents for fear of looters. They spent Monday night in nearby Apalachicola, and then all nine relatives headed to Fort Walton Beach.
"We never saw the island," said Douglas Green. "We're moving on. Plan B, I guess you'd call it."
Debby finally blew ashore Tuesday afternoon near Steinhatchee in the Big Bend area, the crook of Florida's elbow. It had sustained winds near 40 mph, barely a tropical storm.
By Tuesday evening, Debby was 25 miles north of Cedar Key and was moving east-northeast at 6 mph. Forecasters said the center of Debby should cross the northern Florida peninsula during the next 24 hours and head into the Atlantic on Wednesday afternoon. They said tropical storm-force winds were possible over parts of the Gulf coast on Tuesday night.