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Storm surge from Debby still affecting area

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 06:59 PM

Waves whipped to a frenzy by Tropical Storm Debby eroded a stretch of Pass-A-Grille Beach and crashed over a seawall in front of a snack bar.

Along Sunset Beach, land in front of a row of condominiums was so severely eroded there were no sand dunes left.

Although Debby had meandered well north of the Tampa area, the storm's effects were still felt, forcing Pinellas County emergency management officials to close portions of three beaches Tuesday.

High wind, heavy surf and tidal flooding were observed at Fort De Soto, Sand Key and Fred Howard parks and the beaches were closed for safety reasons, said county spokeswoman Mary Burrell.

The storm surges eroding beaches and spilling over seawalls are just another reason why meteorologists have dubbed Debby a "nuisance storm."

"It was a weak tropical storm," said Dan Noah, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Ruskin. "Regardless, we still have southwest winds pumping into the gulf."

Debby lingered over the Gulf of Mexico and kept churning water toward the Tampa area, Noah said. Seawater was continuously pushed ashore and had no other place to go, except over seawalls, onto roads and into neighborhoods.

Clearwater had a storm surge of 3.93 feet of water splashing on land Sunday night and St. Petersburg had a surge of 3.64 feet, according to the weather service. For comparison, storms on the leading edge of cold fronts typically produce surges of two feet at most.

"We have a relatively exposed coastline," said Tyler Fleming, a forecaster with the weather service. "But these surges were pretty well forecasted."

Although the effects of Debby were expected by meteorologists, the wind, rain and storm surges caught some residents by surprise, Noah said.

Dozens called the weather service, frantic about water flooding their homes, Noah said.

"They asked, 'What should I do?' We told them they should have already had had a plan," he said. "This was a minor storm, really far away from Tampa, and look what it did."

Debby should be a lesson for residents, in the event a Category 1 or stronger hurricane sets it sights on Tampa, he said.

"If we had a Category 2 storm, people wouldn't know what to think," Noah said. "You can take everything you saw the last couple of days and multiply it by 16."


rreyes@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7920

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