- Thunderstorms are expected to drench the Georgia coast, northern Florida and South Carolina
- Powerful thunderstorm caused flight delays at New York’s airports – including Newark and JFK on Saturday
- Temperatures set to reach 90 degrees in some states
- About 30.7m expected to drive more than 50 miles for Memorial Day trips
PUBLISHED: 08:02 EST, 27 May 2012 | UPDATED: 07:07 EST, 28 May 2012
Tropical Storm Beryl is the strongest May cyclone to hit the U.S. in more than a century as winds reaching 70mph and drenching rains continued to batter the southeastern coast through the night.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami reported that the center of Beryl made landfall near Jacksonville Beach at around 12.10am with reports that the weather system was in the process of making landfall.
‘There are strong rain bands that are rotating around the center of the storm,’ forecaster Al Sandrik said in an audio statement on the NHC website.
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The weather system is expected to continue dumping rain over parts of Florida and Georgia on Monday. It is expected to weaken as it moves inland and become a tropical depression by Monday night, before moving out to the Atlantic Ocean.
According to NBC News, Beryl is the strongest May tropical cyclone to hit the U.S. since a hurricane hit the Outer Banks of North Carolina with winds of 75 mph on May 29, 1908.
At 8pm last night, Beryl was packing sustained winds near 70 miles per hour and located about 75 miles east of Jacksonville, Florida, the hurricane center said.
An increase in wind speeds to 74 miles per hour or more would make it a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale.
Beach-goers and campers already had their Memorial Day weekend plans ruined as they were forced to pack up and leave the coastline to go inland.
A tropical storm warning remained in effect early today for coastal areas from Flagler Beach, Florida to Edisto Beach, South Carolina, according to MSNBC.
But the storm is forecast to weaken throughout today and tomorrow as winds die down.
‘We’re seeing about the best that Beryl has right now as far as its winds are concerned, with winds about 70 mph,’ forecaster Al Sandrik told the station. ‘The model shows significant weakening of the storm in 12 hours.’
Other forecasters said the storm surge and high tide could bring up to four feet of flooding in northeastern Florida and Georgia.
The storm’s approach led some vacationers in Georgia to leave early, said Alden Alias, the front desk manager at The King and Prince Hotel on St Simons Island, a popular coastal resort town.
‘The waves are pretty big,’ she said. ‘The winds are starting to pick up.’
City officials in Jacksonville canceled Memorial Day ceremonies scheduled for Monday and closed some local parks as the storm drew closer. “I am encouraging all area residents to stay indoors and off the streets as the storm hits,” said Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.
‘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 in Georgia. ‘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.
Computer forecast models show Beryl moving on an eventual path back out over the Atlantic after coming ashore, posing no threat to U.S. oil and gas installations in the Gulf of Mexico.
The storm is forecast to dump as much as 4 to 8 inches of rain, with as much as 12 inches in some areas, and threatens rip currents and possible coastal flooding, the hurricane center said.
Beryl formed off the South Carolina coast late on Friday as a subtropical storm, a reference to the storm’s structure. Subtropical storms usually have a broader wind field than tropical storms and shower and thunderstorm activity farther removed from the storm’s center.
It was reclassified as a tropical storm on Sunday.
Beryl followed the season’s first major storm, Tropical Storm Alberto, which was the earliest-forming Atlantic storm since 2003.
The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to November 30.
While Georgia hasn’t taken a direct hit from a major hurricane in 114 years, the last time a tropical storm made landfall here was in August 1988. Tropical Storm Chris hit near Savannah but did little damage as it pushed northward into South Carolina.
In South Carolina, Beaufort County Emergency Management deputy director David Zeoli said Saturday that word went out to first-responders along the coast near the Georgia line to pay attention to the storm’s progress.
On Saturday, the East Coast experienced air travel chaos as a heavy thunderstorm caused Newark International Airport In New Jersey and Logan International Airport in Boston to close for a time to incoming traffic, leaving thousands delayed on Memorial weekend.
The cause was a powerful thunderstorm which was raging across the north eastern coast, with Philadelphia International Airport also experiencing departure delays of anywhere up to 45 minutes.
The storm caused even more problems as it moved over the New York City area with La Guardia International and JFK International Airport reporting minimum departure delays of 15 minutes, with the storm passing over early Saturday evening.