ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Reuters) - The remains of Tropical Storm Barry brought high winds and heavy rains to Florida on Saturday, but the downpour was welcomed in a parched state that has been battling stubborn wildfires.
Much of Florida’s west coast was feeling the brunt of Barry by Saturday morning. There were no immediate reports of storm-related injuries or damage.
Barry formed as a tropical storm on Friday and began pelting the Tampa Bay area with rain that afternoon. It was downgraded to a tropical depression with sustained winds near 35 mph (55 kph) late on Saturday morning.
At 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT), the system’s poorly defined center had moved across the state and was close to Jacksonville, in northeast Florida, and moving north-northeast at about 23 mph (37 kph), the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
That track was expected to take it, as a heavy rainstorm, up the U.S. East Coast over the next two days. It was not expected to strengthen into a hurricane and the hurricane center said it planned no more public advisories on Barry.
All tropical storm warnings and watches were discontinued as Barry weakened. Tropical storms have maximum sustained winds ranging from 39 to 73 mph (63-118 kph).
Barry was expected to bring several inches (centimeters) of rain to Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
That was welcome news in Georgia and in Florida, which reported hundreds of wildfires in May and rainfall of less than half of the normal average. Florida officials said there were 160 fires in progress as of Saturday, down from 180 on Friday. Friday’s rain was the first in Tampa in 25 days.
The citrus industry said severely dry weather was putting continual stress on the state’s orange and grapefruit growing areas.
Barry also brought heavy rainfall to western Cuba, where rivers overflowed their banks and caused floods in the tobacco-growing province of Pinar del Rio. Officials said 1,000 people were evacuated from flooded areas and three small tornadoes damaged 50 houses.
Barry formed in the Gulf of Mexico on June 1, the official start of the six-month 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, which forecasters have predicted will be more active than normal.
“I think it’s the first time in 39 years that we’ve had a storm on the first day of the season,” said Daniel Brown, a hurricane specialist at the hurricane center.
The season got off to an early start on May 9 with the formation of Subtropical Storm Andrea off the U.S. coast. Andrea lacked the warm core and organized thunderstorm activity of tropical systems.
The height of the six-month hurricane season is usually not until August and September.
Additional reporting by Tom Brown in Miami and Anthony Boadle in Havana