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Thunderstorms may spoil outdoor Memorial Day plans

Beachgoers and boaters may have to ditch the swimsuits and picnics this Memorial Day as rain — and lots of it — threatens to wash out today's outdoor festivities.

Forecasters predict scattered thunderstorms will cloud the holiday, starting as early as dawn and continuing into Tuesday.

"It'll be on and off all day," said Bay News 9 meteorologist Josh Linker. "There won't be a lot of sunshine."

Stirred by Tropical Storm Beryl to the north, southwest winds and moisture will combine for a 70 percent chance of rain locally.

That's "atypical" for this time of year, Linker said. It's unusual to see a tropical storm affecting the forecasts in May, plus it's still an early start to the regular summer rainy season.

Breaks in the rain may allow some outdoor holiday plans to continue, but Linker warns those drawn to the coast that lightning is likely throughout the day and breezy winds will cause choppy waters.

"You need to have more of a heightened awareness of the weather situation," he said.

Boaters tend to flock to the water on Memorial Day, but storms may spoil the tradition.

"We want you to enjoy your holiday, but don't endanger your holiday," said Robert Scholl, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Don't go out onto the water if thunderstorms are nearby, he suggested. Scholl cited a reminder of how quickly the weather can turn: On Friday, authorities rescued four fishermen whose boat capsized off Hernando Beach. The men were found clinging to the overturned boat, flung into the water before they could put on life jackets.

If boaters choose to venture out, Scholl encourages staying closer to shore and being prepared to head back quickly.

Boaters are required by law to keep life jackets, a whistle and other safety equipment on board.

Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Steve Gaskins urged drivers to use caution while traveling on Memorial Day. Last year's three-day weekend recorded 175 crashes on Hillsborough County roads, 115 in Pinellas County, 69 in Pasco County and 16 in Hernando County, according to the patrol.

With the addition of rain to increased traffic, drivers should take further precautions: Slow down and don't follow other cars too closely, Gaskins said.

But the inclement weather won't dampen everyone's holiday. Surfers may rejoice in the waves, and the showers may offer some relief to dry areas that haven't seen enough rainfall this year.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at swang@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443.

Thunderstorms may spoil outdoor Memorial Day plans 05/27/12 [Last modified: Sunday, May 27, 2012 10:59pm]
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