Tropical Storm Beryl made landfall in Jacksonville as the strongest tropical storm to hit land before the beginning of the hurricane season.
Beryl packed 70 mph winds as it came ashore at about midnight Sunday. That was stronger than 1972’s Subtropical Storm Alpha, which had peak winds of about 60 mph. It also was stronger than an unnamed storm in 1908 that had top winds of about 65 mph, according to National Hurricane Center meteorologist Chris Landsea.
“This was a little bit stronger impact,” Landsea said of Beryl.
Beryl is the second storm named before Friday’s official start of the hurricane season, following Tropical Storm Albert, which formed May 19 off North Carolina.
But the two early storms do not portend anything for the rest of the season.
“It’s been a very busy May. This is pretty rare to have,” Landsea said. “But it means nothing for the rest of the season. Sometimes you have a very active early season and the rest of the year is busy as well, and sometimes it flip-flops.”
Take, for example, the 1997 and 1995 hurricane seasons. By late July in 1997, five storms had formed in the Atlantic Ocean and only three more emerged the rest of the season – just one a hurricane. In 1995, five storms formed by Aug. 1 followed by 14 more, Landsea said.
“So you just can’t use this to project what’s going to happen the rest of the year,” he said.
Beryl, downgraded to a tropical depression Monday, is the only storm on the hurricane center’s radar in the Atlantic Ocean. The center is sticking to its forecast of a 50 percent chance of a nearly average season.
Beach trips, backyard barbecues and graveside Memorial Day observances got a good soaking Monday in southeastern Georgia and northern Florida.
Beach lifeguards turned swimmers away from the ocean because of dangerous rip currents from Jacksonville to Tybee Island, Georgia’s largest public beach 140 miles to the north.
Aside from ruining holiday plans, the rain was welcome on the Georgia coast for bringing some relief from persistent drought. As of May 1, rainfall in Savannah was 15 inches below normal for the past 12 months, according to the state climatologist’s office.
Emergency officials said minor flooding was reported near the coast, but the ground was quickly soaking up the water. And the winds had eased considerably.
“We’ve needed it for a long time,” said Ray Parker, emergency management director for coastal McIntosh County south of Savannah, who said the worst damage came from trees falling on two homes overnight. “We were lucky that we didn’t get 3 to 4 inches in 30 minutes. Most of it soaked right in before it had a chance to run off. It fell on an empty sponge.”
The rainfall stopped in Savannah and other northern parts of the Georgia coast Monday, but more was expected through today. A frontal system moving south from the Great Lakes was expected to cause the storm do a U-turn and push it back out to sea.
Streets in Jacksonville Beach were unusually vacant. Bands of blinding rain alternated with dry conditions.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said much progress was made repairing Beryl’s damage, including removing trees and restoring power to homes and businesses.
“We’re very fortunate this did not become a hurricane,” he said. “If it had been a couple of months later, we could have had a Category 3 hurricane.”
Beryl was expected to bring 4 to 8 inches of rain to parts, with some areas getting as much as a foot. Forecasters said the storm surge and high tide could bring 2 to 4 feet of flooding in northeastern Florida and Georgia, and 1 to 2 feet in South Carolina.
Veterans groups, meanwhile, held outdoor Memorial Day ceremonies despite the grim forecast.
At Savannah’s historic Bonaventure Cemetery, American Legion members worked through a downpour to make sure its plot for veterans had a small American flag planted by each headstone.
The rain paused just as a crowd of about 100 began arriving. Robert Schulz, 80, who served in the Marines in the Korean War, held a folded umbrella in one hand as he saluted with the other during the service. Schulz said he and his wife considered skipping the ceremony for the first time in 10 years.
“I said it would be terrible if nobody showed up,” Barbara Schulz said. “We had to come for our veterans.”
As they left the cemetery, Army veteran Byron Stephens, 76, and his wife, Marilyn, said they were determined to attend the Memorial Day ceremony regardless of the weather.
“It didn’t stop people from fighting in inclement weather,” Marilyn Stephens said. “This is what Memorial Day is all about.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
By ALEXANDRA SELTZER
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer