Tropical Storm Debby edged eastward with drenching rains and winds of 45 miles (72 kilometers) per hour toward landfall on the Gulf coast of northern Florida.
Debby is 85 miles west of Cedar Key, Florida, moving east at 3 mph, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said in an advisory at 8 a.m. local time. Meteorologists say the storm will move over northern Florida in a day or two before weakening to a depression and re-emerging later this week in the Atlantic.
Forecasters initially said system might pass through the Gulf’s energy-production area, home to 6.5 percent of U.S. natural gas output, 29 percent of oil production and 40 percent of refinery capacity. Meteorologists then revised predictions for landfall in Florida, the largest orange grower after Brazil.
“The key here with Debby is the heavy rain,” said Eric Leister, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. Little change in storm strength is expected until Debby makes landfall, the NHC said.
While tropical storm-force winds extended as much as 240 miles from the center over parts of the Florida Gulf Coast, the current projected track shows heavy rain, a storm surge and rising tides will flood Gulf coastal areas, the NHC said.
Companies including ConocoPhillips and BP Plc (BP/) had halted 35 percent of gas output and 44 percent of oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), Hess Corp., Enterprise Products Partners (EPD:US), Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC:US), BHP Billiton Ltd., W&T Offshore (WTI:US), Eni SpA (ENI), Apache Corp. (APA:US) and BP said they began returning workers to Gulf platforms yesterday.
While growers said orange groves in Florida escaped major damage from Debby, the storm is expected to produce 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) of additional rain over northern Florida in the next couple of days. Some isolated areas may receive as much as 25 inches, the NHC said.
National Hurricane Center tracks for Debby have varied significantly. The center predicted June 24 that the storm would move west toward Texas, then forecast a Louisiana landfall. The track changed again to show a Florida landfall.
The variance in the forecast tracks is caused by differences in computer models, said Dennis Feltgen, an NHC spokesman in Miami.
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