Tropical Storm Beryl strengthens, nears US coast

By Kelli Kennedy

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, May 27 2012 8:30 p.m. MDT

This NOAA satellite image taken Sunday, May 27, 2012 at 01:45 PM EDT shows Tropical Storm Beryl spinning about 110 miles east of Jacksonville, Florida. Beryl is moving toward the west near 10 mph, with sustained winds of 43 mph and gust to 52 mph. A westward motion is expected to continue through landfall Sunday night. Tropical storm conditions are expected to reach the coast of northeast Florida and southeastern Georgia this afternoon and continue through tonight. Dangerous surf conditions, including rip currents and storm surge effect coastal areas of northeastern Florida and Georgia, while rain spreads inland. For more information on Tropical Storm Beryl, please visit http://www.wunderground.com/tropical. In the Caribbean, the trough of low pressure associate with Tropical Storm Beryl extends to the northeast Yucatan. This system produces scattered moderate to isolated strong convection is visible off the east coast of Yucatan and from the coast of Nicaragua to just south of Jamaica.

WEATHER UNDERGROUND, AP PHOTO

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 Sunday evening that Beryl was approaching hurricane strength and was expected to make landfall late Sunday or early Monday.

As of 8 p.m., Beryl had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (113 kph), just below hurricane-strength, which is 75 mph. It was not expected to strengthen much more, and should weaken after making landfall. The hurricane center said the Jacksonville pier was already reporting winds of 50 mph (80 kph). Beryl was moving westward at 10 mph (16 kph).

Florida Gov. Rick Scott urged Florida residents in the affected areas to "stay alert and aware."

"Tropical Storm Beryl is expected to bring heavy rain and winds, and it is vital to continue to monitor local news reports and listen to the advice of local emergency management officials," Scott said in a statement Sunday evening.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect for the entire Georgia coastline, as well as parts of Florida and South Carolina.

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, Ga., 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. 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 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.

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