MIAMI – 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.
The death, in Florida, was blamed on a tornado spawned by the storm, and a man went missing in the Gulf of Mexico at an Alabama beach.
Coastal Alabama and parts of Florida, including the Panhandle, were under tropical storm warnings. Underscoring the storm’s unpredictable nature, forecasters discontinued a tropical storm warning for Louisiana after forecast models indicated Debby wasn’t likely to turn west.
Debby already has dumped heavy rain on parts of Florida and spawned some isolated tornadoes, causing damage to homes and knocking down power lines. High winds forced the closure of an interstate bridge that spans Tampa Bay and links St. Petersburg with areas to the southeast. Residents in some counties near the crook of Florida’s elbow were urged to leave low-lying neighborhoods because of the threat of flooding.
Debby was essentially stationary about 115 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola, Fla., on Sunday evening. While storm tracks are difficult to discern days in advance, a forecast map predicted that the storm would meander north as the week unfolds.
Debby’s top sustained winds were at about 60 mph.
Chris Landsea, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center, said forecasters rely on computer models which were contradictory until Sunday.
Landsea said every storm is different and has different characteristics, “and in this case it’s a very unpredictable storm.” He said Debby could become a hurricane.
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.
The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release that several tornadoes moved through the area southeast of Tampa, damaging homes.
Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Nell Hays said a woman was found dead in a house that was destroyed in the storm. A child found in the same house was taken to the hospital. No further information was available on the child’s condition or either person’s age.
In Orange Beach, Ala., a 32-year-old man went missing Sunday in rough surf, said Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Torry James.