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Tropical Storm Beryl nears southeastern US coast

By Kelli Kennedy

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, May 27 2012 4:35 p.m. MDT

This NOAA satellite image taken Saturday, May 26, 2012 at 1:45 a.m. EDT shows shows clouds off the Carolina Coast associated with Subtropical Storm Beryl. The storm is expected to move slowly southwestward over the next few days, eventually making landfall as a tropical storm along the northeast coast of Florida. This region is currently in an exceptional drought, so the rain from Beryl may turn out to be partially a good thing. For more information, please see http://www.wunderground.com/tropical/. Clouds in the Plains are associated with a front that produced some severe thunderstorms and tornadoes in Kansas.

WEATHER UNDERGROUND, AP PHOTO

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Tropical Storm Beryl was wrecking some Memorial Day weekend plans on Sunday, causing shoreline campers to pack up and head inland and leading to the cancellation of some events as the storm approached the southeastern U.S.

Beryl was still well offshore, but officials in Georgia and Florida were bracing for drenching rains and driving winds.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said late Sunday afternoon that Beryl would make landfall in several hours, and that tropical storm conditions were already near the coasts of northeastern Florida and southeastern Georgia. Gusts are possible late Sunday and early Monday.

Beryl is expected to bring 4 to 8 inches of rain to parts, with some areas getting as much as 12 inches. Forecasters predict the storm surge and tide will cause some coastal flooding in northeastern Florida, Georgia and southern South Carolina.

Campers at Cumberland Island, Fla., which is reachable only by boat, were told to leave by 4:45 p.m. 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.

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, which had reached 65 mph (105 kph) late Sunday afternoon. 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 all 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.

In Jacksonville Beach, Fernando Sola said business was booming at his Happy Faces Ice Cream truck. A bus- full of tourists from South Carolina had stopped to buy some ice cream and watch the storm waters churn.

"There are actually more people than on a normal day. It's working out great," said Sola, taking a few moments away from scooping ice cream to people lined up in front of his truck.

Steady, heavy winds kicked up sand across the area, forcing onlookers to shield themselves with towels.

Jessica Smith and Chester Jaheeb decided to brave the waters despite many warnings for people to stay out. Jaheeb, who was born in India but lives in Jacksonville, said he had never experienced a tropical storm before.

"We were at a certain part that started pulling us out, like the rip current, so we decided to come to shore," said Smith, 17.

Taylor Anderson, captain of Jacksonville Beach's American Red Cross Volunteer Lifesaving Corps., said his lifeguards went body-surfing early Sunday to get acclimated with the surf conditions for what looked to be a long day. They also reviewed methods to determine where there might be riptides.

"They look for discoloration, the water moving paradoxically back to sea, and our lifeguards are trained to spot that, to keep people away from that, especially when the surf is this high. It makes those run-outs very dangerous. People can get sucked into those very fast, especially with the high surf and the high wind," he said.

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