Beryl makes landfall at Jax beaches

Winds at 70 mph as tropical storm rolls in

Published On: May 27 2012 05:47:09 PM EDT   Updated On: May 27 2012 11:16:29 PM EDT
10:35 p.m. Sunday radar
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

About four days before hurricane season officially begins, Tropical Storm Beryl made landfall in northeast Florida about 11 p.m. Sunday, bringing heavy wind gusts and rain to the area.

The rare, early season system appears determined to wash out Memorial Day activities, as the center of circulation was passing over downtown Jacksonville.

At 11 p.m. Sunday, the storm's sustained winds were at 70 mph, with gusts as much as 75 mph, as it churns about 30 miles east of Jacksonville. It continued moving to the west at 7 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Beryl was 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 and southeastern Georgia.

Because the outer bands reach 90 miles from the storm's center, the first rainfall and winds gusts reached area beaches by mid-afternoon Sunday.

Heavy rains began about 8 p.m. along the coast and reached inland areas before midnight.

Channel 4 chief meteorologist John Gaughan said the worst of the weather will last until about noon Monday.

"There will be isolated power outages and flooding, but the flooding potential will come after Beryl has moved onshore and weakened: Monday through Wednesday," Gaughan said.

Stormy conditions were expected overnight and for Monday. Tropical storm warnings are in effect for most local counties, and a flood watch is in effect for all local counties.

ONLINE RESOURCES:  Track Beryl | Current radar | Interactive map | Live beachcam

Surf across the area is already rough, with riptides that required several water rescues at area beaches on Saturday.

“In addition to the potential for dangerous rip currents, high waves up to 4 to 6 feet could cause moderate beach erosion and minor coastal flooding,” state meteorologist Amy Godsey said.

Rainfall of 3 to 6 inches is possible in tropical downpours late Sunday into Monday, but the rain could continue to fall through midweek as the storm is expected to stall over north central Florida, then head to the northeast, crossing southeast Georgia.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect for coastal counties from Volusia north into South Carolina, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Most inland counties in Channel 4's viewing are also under tropical storm warnings.

Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown announced Sunday he was declaring a state of emergency -- mostly procedural to ensure an expedited chain of command and adequate funding. The city has also suspended all water activities at pools and beaches and closed Hanna and Huguenot parks until the storm passed.

Sunday's outdoor events of the jazz festival were canceled and Monday morning's Memorial Day ceremony was postponed until a later date.

Brown said the Emergency Operations Center was activated and public works and JEA employees were making preparations for storm conditions.

The city opened a special needs shelter at the Legends Center located at Soutel and Moncrief in Northwest Jacksonville at noon Sunday. Anyone who is electricity and oxygen dependent should use this shelter in the event of a power outage or flooding.

Garbage, yard waste and recycling collection in Jacksonville has been cancelled for Monday.

St. Johns County's emergency managers were also monitoring the storm.  Additional Fire-Rescue staff was scheduled on Sunday and Monday shifts and area beaches were closed. Garbage pickup will take place. The 2012 Concerts in the Plaza series set for Memorial Day was cancelled.

Nassau County officials said they don't anticipate opening any shelters, but residents who are registered with special medical needs and are dependent on medical devices requiring electricity can call 904-548-4980.

Nassau County was also monitoring wind speeds on bridges, but did not expect any closures. The county closed its beaches. It will have regular garbage pickup Monday.

Clay County was staffing its Emergency Operations Center to monitor the storm's progress and react as necessary. Memorial Day Services at Camp Blanding were cancelled.

All incoming and outgoing flights at Jacksonville International Airport except for two flights each with JetBlue and Delta were cancelled for Sunday night and Monday morning.

At noon Sunday, Coast Guard Captain of the Port of Jacksonville Andy Blomme closed all commercial waterways from Ponce de Leon Inlet in New Smyrna Beach north to Fernandina Beach in preparation for the storm. The ports of Jacksonville and Fernandina are closed to all inbound and outbound traffic. In addition, the Coast Guard reminds all recreational boaters to exercise caution in the severe conditions and avoid being on the water.

"A three-day thunderstorm is what it's probably going to be," said Jay Wiggins, emergency management director for Glynn County, which is about 60 miles south of Savannah and includes Brunswick and St. Simons Island. "Unfortunately, it's going to ruin a lot of Memorial Day plans."

Wiggins said he expects some flooded roadways and scattered power outages, perhaps some minor flooding in waterfront homes, but otherwise little damage. However, he urged beachgoers to beware of dangerous rip currents.

On Cumberland Island, a federally protected wilderness area beloved by hikers and campers, campers were told to leave by 4:45 p.m. before the storm arrives. Superintendent Fred Boyles said he had about 100 campers who had planned to stay overnight Sunday on the island, which is only reachable by boat.

Beryl was upgraded from a subtropical storm to a full tropical storm just before 4 p.m. Sunday. The system is expected to bring winds and rain to the area regardless of its official classification.

"As Tropical Storm Beryl approaches Florida's northeast coast, I urge all Floridians in the affected communities to stay alert and aware," Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement. "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."

For more information, residents can call 904-630-CITY or visit its Emergency Preparedness website at www.JaxReady.org.