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Tropical Storm Debby's slow movement hammers west Florida

Swimmers and a diver attempt on Monday to “float the boat,” according to diver Calvin Longstaff, as the fishing vessel sinks near the tornado-damaged Pass-A-Grille Marina.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Swimmers and a diver attempt on Monday to “float the boat,” according to diver Calvin Longstaff, as the fishing vessel sinks near the tornado-damaged Pass-A-Grille Marina.

Debby was disorganized from the start.

As the storm formed haphazardly in the Gulf of Mexico late last week, some forecasters said it was unlikely to develop into a big deal. But the moderate tropical storm has become a major player.

Avoiding major steering currents, it has remained nearly stagnant in the Gulf of Mexico, pounding west Florida with thunderstorms, high winds and vicious currents.

And it's not leaving soon.

"Debby's not going anywhere for the foreseeable future," said Todd Kimberlain, a forecaster with the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "It's going to be moving very little over the next several days."

The storm is causing concern for emergency managers and residents, who have already endured days of tornadoes, flooding, power loss, downed trees, and closed roads, far more disruption than is typical of a midlevel tropical storm.

The key is duration: The longer Debby sits, the more damage it can cause.

"It's going to be agonizing," Kimberlain said. "If it sits around long enough, we could see some real problems."

Experts can't pinpoint how long this onslaught will last, but warn it might not clear up until the weekend, when Debby, about 50 miles southwest of Apalachicola, is expected to make its way across the Florida peninsula.

For some, the storm recalled 1985's Hurricane Elena. A far more dangerous Category 3 hurricane, it hovered in the gulf, like Debby, for several days and brutalized Florida's west coast.

But Debby is no hurricane.

Sustained wind speeds of 45 mph were just high enough for it to retain tropical storm status Monday, and forecasters said the storm could weaken.

Strong westerly winds and cooling waters almost guarantee Debby won't be getting any stronger as it makes its way toward the Big Bend area in coming days, experts said.

The other big difference, meteorologists said, is the composition of the storm.

Unlike hurricanes, Tropical Storm Debby's strongest weather was concentrated in thunderstorm bands spiraling out from its center. Because the center is so disorganized, its impact won't be that bad.

"When it does come on shore, it will probably be a non-event," Kimberlain said. "The worst will be over."

Rainfall totals in coming days will vary greatly, said Bay News 9 chief meteorologist Mike Clay.

The squalls rolling through the area could bring up to 2 inches in some parts, he said, but others might only see drizzles.

"It's still wait-and-see," Clay said. "But I'd be surprised if we got the kind of weather we had over the weekend."

Marissa Lang can be reached at mlang@tampabay.com.

Tropical Storm Debby's slow movement hammers west Florida 06/25/12 [Last modified: Monday, June 25, 2012 10:33pm]
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