Matthew Perez

Emily Weakens to Tropical Depression After Making Landfall in Florida as Tropical Storm

Emily is expected to bring rain and wind to central and southern Florida

Tropical Storm Emily formed in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of west-central Florida and quickly made landfall Monday morning before it weakened to a tropical depression over central Florida.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Emily made landfall around 10:45 a.m. on Anna Maria Island just west of Bradenton. The National Hurricane center says the storm's maximum sustained winds increased Monday morning to near 45 mph but it weakened to a tropical depression as it moved inland.

A tropical storm warning had been in effect for a section of the Florida coast from Englewood to Bonita Beach south of Fort Myers, but the warning was discontinued.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in 31 Florida counties, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe, in response to the storm.

"Upon learning of this tropical system from the National Hurricane Center, the State of Florida immediately engaged to prepare for any potential storm impacts," Gov. Scott said in a statement. "I have declared a state of emergency across 31 counties to ensure that every community has the resources they need, and that state, regional and local agencies can easily work together to keep people prepared during Tropical Storm Emily."

The coast of Florida begins to feel the affects of Tropical Storm Emily before it makes landfall near Tampa.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, Scott said about 18,000 homes and businesses were without power due to the storm. Scott said most of the outages are in Manatee County, where 10,000 customers are without power.

The system was expected to bring rain and wind to central and southern Florida. The National Weather Service issued a flood watch for parts of southwest Florida, including Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties.

The Florida Highway Patrol closed the towering Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay on Monday morning because of high winds from Emily. Sgt. Steve Gaskins urged motorists in an email to seek other routes after gusts at the bridge were clocked at more than 60 mph. The bridge reopened Monday afternoon.

At 11 p.m. Monday, Emily was moving inland over west-central Florida about 35 miles (60 kilometers) west of Vero Beach. The depression was expected to move offshore from the Florida coast early Tuesday but could bring isolated amounts of up to eight inches of water to some areas.

No injuries have been reported along the Gulf Coast, although two fishermen were rescued from Tampa Bay while clinging to a channel marker light after their boat sank.

Tropical Storm Emily did some damage to Florida's coast before it made landfall and was downgraded to a tropical depression.

On Treasure Island, a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico west of St. Petersburg, a normally packed beach parking lot was almost empty of tourists Monday. Only a handful of people were on the white sand beach and a few bodysurfed small waves in an area that doesn't normally get waves. Some took selfies amid a mix of clouds and patches of blue sky on the northern edge of the storm system.

Kevin Baker, a 53-year-old retiree who takes his walks daily at Treasure Island, said he decided to venture out despite the storm "to watch the clouds to go by."

"This morning was pretty bad. It rained pretty hard. I got a little leak in my Jeep even," said Baker. But though the weather there had briefly improved at midday, he added, "we're supposed to get hit again."

A flood watch was in effect for much of the Tampa area, raising the threat of some scattered street flooding in low-lying areas. Law enforcement agencies urged motorists to drive with caution on a day that began as a miserable Monday morning commute for many. A few Tampa area communities, such as Pinellas Park and Tarpon Springs, offered residents sandbags to stave off any flooding.

Tropical Storm Emily is the fifth named storm of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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