Tropical Storm Emily, which appeared suddenly off Florida’s Gulf Coast early Monday, weakened to a depression as it crossed the peninsula.
In their 11 p.m. advisory National Hurricane Center forecasters said sustained winds had slowed to 35 mph, with the storm located about 35 miles west of Vero Beach, moving at 9 mph to the east. The storm had picked up speed to 12 mph and was expected to exit the state early Tuesday. Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for 31 counties.
The sudden storm made landfall on Anna Maria Island, west of Bradenton about 10:45 a.m. A tropical storm warning issued for parts of the southwest Florida coast, from north of Naples to Port Charlotte, was discontinued.
Emily is still expected to dump between one and two inches of rain in southeast Florida, with up to eight inches possible in some locations.
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Scott’s state of emergency spanned about half the state in anticipation of Emily’s heavy rain.
“I have declared a state of emergency across 31 counties to ensure that every community has the resources they need, and that state, regional and local agencies can easily work together to keep people prepared during Tropical Storm Emily,” Scott said in a statement.
So far this wet season, South Florida has been hammered with heavy rain. The first week of June, more than a month’s worth of rain fell, sending water managers scrambling to drain flooded farm fields and water conservation areas. High water in a vast conservation west of Broward County prompted Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioner Ron Bergeron last week to ask the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers to wave pumping rules and continue draining the region.
Water managers are also keeping a close eye on water levels in Lake Okeechobee, which on Monday reached 12.72 feet. That’s still well below the 15.5 feet limit the Corps set to protect the lake’s aging dike. But with no room to drain water south of the lake, rising water levels could trigger releases to the Treasure Coast and down the Caloosahatchee River. Such releases have regularly triggered toxic algae outbreaks because lake water contains high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen from farm and urban run-off.
In a statement Monday afternoon, the South Florida Water Management District said it had increased pumping in Palm Beach County to make room and leveraged a reservoir connected to a stormwater treatment area for storage. However, storage further south remains a concern.
Scott urged residents to be alert to storm and flooding conditions.
“While this storm developed quickly overnight and will swiftly move across our state, storms can always develop rapidly and that is why is it so important to be prepared at the start of hurricane season,,” he said. “For helpful preparation resources, please visit FLGetAPlan.com.”
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