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Florida’s west coast braced for heavy rain and high winds as Tropical Storm Emily neared Tampa Monday morning.
The storm that quickly formed over the Gulf of Mexico Sunday was located about 35 miles southwest of Tampa, with sustained winds of 45 mph, National Hurricane Center forecasters said in their 11 a.m. advisory. The storm was rolling east at 9 mph, with much of the southwest Florida coast, from north of Naples to Tarpon Springs, under a tropical storm warning.
Emily is expected to make landfall this afternoon as it moves toward the mouth of Tampa Bay, forecasters said, dumping between two and four inches of rain along its path. Up to eight inches are possible in some locations.
Forecasters said ham radio operators were beginning to report some street flooding already occurring in Manatee and Sarasota Counties near the Myakka River. Forecasters also warned that tornadoes were possible later Monday over central and South Florida.
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 keep 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 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.
As Emily moves over land, it’s expected to weaken, then strengthen slightly as it heads back out to sea Tuesday morning. However, it’s not likely to regain tropical storm force winds, forecasters said.
Monday morning, Gov. Rick Scott urged residents to be alert to storm and flooding conditions.
“As we know in Florida, storms can quickly develop, bringing severe weather to our state in a moment’s notice,” he said in a statement. “After rapidly intensifying overnight, a tropical [storm] will impact the Tampa area and Floridians must prepare for impacts to Southwest Florida. Just as with last year’s storms, I encourage Floridians to get prepared and visit FLGetAPlan.com.“