Debby’s Downpour Drenching Florida

Tropical Storm Debby, expected to come ashore later today on Florida’s Gulf Coast, has dumped more than two feet of rain in some places and caused flooding south of Tallahassee, Florida as it has meandered slowly along the Florida Panhandle.

The snail’s-pace movement of the storm at about 3 mph since Sunday has allowed Debby to drench Florida’s Panhandle and Big Bend regions on the Gulf Coast. Jeff Evans, acting meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Tallahassee, said the water depth gauge on the Sopchoppy River — which flows into the Gulf of Mexico southwest of Tallahassee — was under about four feet of water Tuesday afternoon. Evans said the flooding on the Sopchoppy caused by Debby probably would exceed the record of more than 34 feet set in 1975.

The highest rainfall total so far has been in rural Wakulla County in Florida’s Big Bend region. Almost 29 inches of rain has fallen there during Debby’s slow trek toward landfall.

Evans said he was not aware of any injuries or fatalities caused by Debby, but said dozens of homes along the storm’s path along the coast have been flooded. The storm’s winds, which gusted to more than 65 mph in some places, have toppled trees and power lines, but there has not been widespread severe structural damage, he said.

“With slow-moving storms, the real problem is with flooding,” Evans said. “We’ve been dealing with this storm in our little neck of the woods since Sunday. We’re ready for it to leave.”

James Franklin, a hurricane forecaster at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said Debby’s center likely will come ashore near the mouth of the Suwannee River sometime this afternoon or evening. But the massive storm’s effects are being felt as far south as Lake Okeechobee, near Miami, Franklin said. Debby likely will weaken as it moves eastward across the Florida peninsula, but will continue to soak the state, he said.

Debby is expected to complete its trek across Florida Thursday morning and regain some strength over the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. From there, forecasters think Debby will move northeastward and be off the coast of North Carolina by Sunday.

Changing Planet

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Willie Drye is an award-winning author and a contributing editor for National Geographic News. He and his wife live in Wilmington, North Carolina.