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Stronger Tropical Storm Beryl smacks Jacksonville

Tropical Storm Beryl threatened to snarl traffic on Memorial Day as it brought drenching rain, winds and the possibility of flooding to the southeastern U.S. coast.

The storm made landfall in Florida early Monday near Jacksonville Beach around 12:10 a.m. with near-hurricane-strength winds of 70 mph (113 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

The weather system was expected to continue dumping rain over parts of Florida and Georgia on Monday. It was forecast to weaken as it moves inland Monday and Tuesday, and as a frontal system comes down from the Great Lakes, Beryl was expected to move out into the Atlantic Ocean.

"We're seeing about the best that Beryl has right now as far as its winds are concerned, with winds about 70 mph," forecaster Al Sandrik said in an audio briefing late Sunday. "The model shows significant weakening of the storm in 12 hours."

But the weather system could complicate holiday traffic Monday after wrecking some Memorial Day weekend plans Sunday. It caused shoreline campers to pack up and head inland and led to the cancellation of some events.

A tropical storm warning was in effect early Monday for coastal areas from Flagler Beach, Fla. to the Savannah River in Georgia. An earlier tropical storm warning for areas northward to Edisto Beach, S.C., was discontinued. At 5 a.m., the storm was 20 miles (30 kilometers) west of Jacksonville, Fla. and was moving west near 8 mph (13 kph). The storm's maximum sustained winds had decreased to near 50 mph (85 kph). Tropical storm force winds were extending outward up to 140 miles (220 kilometers).

Beryl was expected to bring 4 to 8 inches of rain to parts, with some areas getting as much as 12 inches. Forecasters said the storm surge and high tide could bring 2 to 4 feet of flooding in northeastern Florida and Georgia, and 1 to 2 feet in southern South Carolina.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott urged Florida residents in the affected areas to "stay alert and aware."

"Tropical Storm Beryl is expected to bring heavy rain and winds, and it is vital to continue to monitor local news reports and listen to the advice of local emergency management officials," Scott said in a statement Sunday evening.

Campers at Cumberland Island, Ga., which is reachable only by boat, were told to leave by 4:45 p.m. Sunday. The island has a number of undeveloped beaches and forests popular with campers.

However, many people seemed determined to make the best of the soggy forecast Sunday.

In Georgia, at Greyfield Inn, a 19th-century mansion and the only private inn on Cumberland Island, the rooms were nearly full Sunday and everyone was planning to stay put through the wet weather, said Dawn Drake, who answered the phone at the inn's office on the Florida coast.

In Jacksonville, Fla., Sunday's jazz festival and Memorial Day ceremony were canceled. Workers were also out clearing tree limbs and debris that could be tossed about by the storm's winds. Winds had already knocked down tree limbs and power lines in parts of coastal Georgia, leaving hundreds without electricity.

But business was booming at the Red Dog Surf Shop in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., where customers flocked to buy boards and wax in anticipation of the storm's high waves. Officials along the coast warned of rip currents, waves and high tides - all of which can be dangerous but also tend to attract adventurous surfers. The waters had already become dangerous in South Carolina, where rescuers were searching for a missing swimmer.

The Coast Guard said crews in Charleston Harbor rescued three people and a dog from a sinking recreational vessel late Sunday morning.

The southeastern U.S. wasn't the only part of the country dealing with troublesome weather.

In Washington, the annual Memorial Day concert on the National Mall on Sunday night was cut short as a line of thunderstorms approached the District of Columbia from the northwest. Mike Musher of the National Weather Service said the thunderstorms developed over Pennsylvania as part of the weather system that created record high temperatures in the Midwest over the weekend.

Stronger Tropical Storm Beryl smacks Jacksonville 05/27/12 [Last modified: Monday, May 28, 2012 6:52am]
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