Tropical Storm Barry weakens to tropical depression in Tampa Bay

Sunday, June 3, 2007
Carlene Safdie, left, and her son-in-law Matt Miller and his son, Parker Miller, 3, made their way to dry land Saturday in Tampa, Fla., after their car got stuck on a flooded street due to Tropical Storm Barry. (Chris Zuppa ~ St. Petersburg Times)

HOMOSOSSA SPRINGS, Fla. -- Tropical Storm Barry weakened into a tropical depression Saturday as it moved through Tampa Bay, bringing nearly 7 inches of rain to parts of the drought-parched region.

Forecasters discontinued the tropical storm warnings and watches issued for stretches of the Gulf Coast. The depression's sustained winds had slowed to near 35 mph, and it was moving north-northeast at 23 mph.

The storm, which formed on the first day of the Atlantic hurricane season, made landfall in the Tampa Bay area in the morning and had moved across the state to Jacksonville by the evening, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

Dry conditions in Florida have left Lake Okeechobee, the second-largest freshwater lake in the contiguous United States, at its lowest recorded level and allowed a brush fire on the Georgia-Florida border to burn for weeks.

"This is a blessing," said Bob Buning, an employee at MacRae's Bait Shop in Homosassa, where boaters had returned to the Homosassa River by Saturday afternoon. "We needed this rain really bad."

By Saturday morning, Barry had brought nearly 6 inches of rain to Melbourne and nearly 7 inches to West Palm Beach. It was expected to drop 3 to 6 inches of rain on parts Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. Isolated areas could get up to 10 inches of rain.

"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. She said 30 to 40 inches of rain was needed.

Fire officials said it was too early to tell whether the rain had put out a massive fire on the Florida-Georgia border.

Barry was rapidly losing the characteristics of a tropical depression, the hurricane center said.

"This is going to be a weather maker, it's just not going to be a tropical system," Senior Hurricane Specialist Richard Knabb said.

In Mexico, Tropical Storm Barbara made landfall Saturday and weakened into a depression as it moved inland from the southern Pacific coast near the Guatemala border, an area notoriously vulnerable to flooding.

At least 1,400 people were evacuated from coastal communities in Mexico's southern Chiapas state, Radio Formula reported. The state's civil protection department did not return a phone call to The Associated Press.

In the Guatemalan border town of Ocos, at least 100 people were evacuated after the storm tore roofs of their homes.

With maximum winds of nearly 35 mph and higher gusts, Barbara was centered about 20 miles north of the Mexican city of Tapachula. The storm was heading northeast at 7 mph, and was expected to weaken as it moves further inland.

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.

The National Weather Service said it expects 13 to 17 tropical storms in the Atlantic hurricane season, with seven to 10 becoming hurricanes and three to five in the strong category.

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