Beryl weakens, but still whips northwest Florida and southern Georgia

Monday, May 28, 2012 - 8:09am

Tropical Storm Beryl weakened early Monday even as it threatened to wipe out Memorial Day festivities across north Florida and south Georgia, forecasters said.

Because of Beryl, Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown canceled all Memorial Day ceremonies. A Memorial Day event at Veteran's Cemetery in nearby St. Augustine also was canceled, CNN affiliate WTLV reported.

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority suspended all bus routes to area beaches.

Beryl's powerful winds knocked out power across the region.

JEA, which supplies power to the Jacksonville area, reported approximately 21,000 customers without electricity. The Clay Electric Cooperative reported scattered outages in Orange Park, south of Jacksonville.

The storm cut a wide swath, also plunging sections of southeastern Georgia into darkness. Georgia Power said more than 3,500 customers were without power in Savannah, St. Marys and St. Simons.

Beryl cut short weekend plans for hundreds of campers and day-trippers to Georgia's Cumberland Island National Seashore as they were ordered to leave ahead of the storm, the National Parks Service said.

In Florida, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority said Sunday night that all airlines, except JetBlue and Delta, canceled the day's remaining incoming and outgoing flights. It was not immediately clear how many flights were affected.

As of 5 a.m., the center of Beryl was about 20 miles west of Jacksonville and about 85 miles east-southeast of Valdosta, Georgia, forecasters said. Packing maximum sustained winds of 50 mph with higher gusts, Beryl was moving west at about 8 mph. The storm's eye made landfall about five hours earlier, swirling ashore near Jacksonville Beach at 12:10 a.m. ET

Tropical storm conditions were forecast for areas of the Atlantic coast from northeastern Florida to Edisto Beach, South Carolina.

"I've been through a couple, but thank God, we made it through," Flagler County, Florida, resident Jimmy Poole told CNN affiliate Central Florida News 13. "I know we've got to board the windows and be careful in the water, and I know the news is going to tell us what to do."

The storm comes just ahead of the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season, which begins June 1 and runs through November 30.

A storm surge and high tide will cause coastal flooding of 2 to 4 feet along the Florida and Georgia coasts and 1 to 2 feet along coastal South Carolina, forecasters said. Dangerous surf conditions including rip currents are expected through the weekend in the warning area.

Beryl is expected to dump 4 to 8 inches of rain along parts of the Southeastern coast, with isolated maximum amounts of 12 inches. Tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 mph extend outward up to 115 miles from the storm's center, the hurricane center said.

After landfall, the forecast track shows Beryl circling around into southeastern Georgia and South Carolina before heading back out to sea Tuesday evening.

The storm will bring much needed rain to the area, most of which is experiencing an "extreme" or "exceptional" drought, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which tracks drought conditions nationwide.

While some rain may be welcome, officials are warning of dangerous rip currents and strong winds.

"Residents and visitors along the northeast coast should closely monitor this system and use caution on roadways," said Amy Godsey, Florida Division of Emergency Management state meteorologist, according to Central Florida News 13.

On Sunday morning, officials closed waters off Tybee Island, Georgia, to public use, according to CNN affiliate WSAV in Savannah, Georgia. The area was experiencing rain from rain bands associated with Beryl and waves of about 4 to 6 feet with strong rip currents.

A day earlier, Tybee Island lifeguards conducted 48 rescues because of rip currents, WSAV said. It was the island's second-busiest day on record for rescues behind July 3 of last year, officials said.

Some, however, remained determined to enjoy their holiday regardless of the weather.

"We enjoy the storms. We live here," Teri Hood told Central Florida News 13 from Jacksonville Beach. "As long as there are cocktails for the weekend, that's it."
 

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