Tropical Storm Barry weakens to tropical depression as it nears Tampa

Published 11:38 pm Saturday, June 2, 2007

Tropical Storm Barry weakened into a tropical depression as its center neared land on Saturday, though its rains brought some relief to the drought-parched region.

Forecasters discontinued the tropical storm warnings and watches issued for stretches of the Gulf Coast as the storm’s center approached Tampa at 10 a.m. CDT. The depression’s sustained winds had slowed to near 35 mph and it was moving north-northeast at about 23 mph.

In Mexico, Tropical Storm Barbara made landfall Saturday on the southern Pacific coast near the Guatemala border, an area notoriously vulnerable to flooding.

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With maximum winds of nearly 50 mph and higher gusts, Barbara was centered just southwest of the Mexican city of Tapachula. The storm was heading northeast at 7 mph, and was expected to weaken as it continues moving inland over southeast Mexico and western Guatemala, the U.S. Hurricane Center in Miami said.

A tropical storm warning was in effect from Sipacate, Guatemala, to Barra de Tonala, Mexico, and the hurricane center warned that Barbara could unleash life-threatening flooding and mudslides. Heavy rains were reported.

Rain was falling throughout drought-stricken Florida and Georgia. The depression was expected to drop 3 to 6 inches of rain on parts of those states, along with South Carolina and North Carolina on Saturday. Isolated areas could get up to 10 inches of rain.

The National Weather Service said isolated tornadoes over central Florida were possible.

By Saturday morning, Barry had brought nearly 6 inches of rain to Melbourne and nearly 7 inches to West Palm Beach.

“It’ll help a little bit, but everyone is so far below rainfall that we’re still going to be under drought conditions,” said Kim Brabander, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “To really alleviate the drought conditions we’re going to need anywhere from 30 to 40 inches of rain.”

A tropical storm warning was canceled after being issued from Bonita Beach on Florida’s southwest coast northward to Keaton Beach, near the state’s Big Bend area. A tropical storm watch for the area between Keaton Beach west to St. Marks, south of Tallahassee, also was canceled.

The storm developed Friday, the first official day of a hurricane season that forecasters have said they expect to be busier than normal. The National Weather Service said it expects 13 to 17 tropical storms, with seven to 10 becoming hurricanes and three to five in the strong category.

“There is no correlation at all between activity in the early part of the season and later parts,” said Lixion Avila, a hurricane specialist at the center.

Barry formed more than three weeks after the first named storm of the year — Subtropical Storm Andrea — developed off Florida’s eastern coast. Andrea skirted the southern Atlantic coast but caused minimal damage.