‘Boomerang’ Fay strengthens inland

Published 12:14 am Wednesday, August 20, 2008

NAPLES, Fla. – Tropical Storm Fay rolled ashore in southwestern Florida on Tuesday without much fanfare, but stubbornly hung around like an unwelcome houseguest, gaining power and threatening – once again – to become a hurricane.

The storm first hit the Florida Keys, veered out to sea and then traversed east across the state on a path that would curve it toward to the Florida-Georgia border. The failure of Fay to weaken meant a whole new swath of the state had to prepare for a worse storm, and meant Florida could wind up getting hit three separate times.

“This storm is going to be with us for a while. That’s obvious now. It looks it could be a boomerang storm,” Gov. Charlie Crist said at a news conference.

Earlier in the day, it had appeared that Fay would simply peter out and perhaps bring nothing but heavy rains to the southeastern United States. But by late Tuesday, a hurricane watch was posted for parts of north Florida and Georgia as Fay seemed to be resurrected by the flat, swampy Everglades, increasing the chances it could still end up strengthening into a hurricane. Its top sustained winds increased during the day by 5 mph to 65 mph. A hurricane has winds of at least 74 mph.

At 7 p.m. EDT, the center of the storm was about 45 miles south-southwest of Melbourne and was moving north-northeast near 7 mph.

Tropical storms and hurricanes do occasionally strengthen while over land, said Eric Blake, a specialist at the National Hurricane Center. Forecasters are not certain why it is occurring with Fay, but the Everglades’ ample warm water might have given it just the dose of energy it needs.

Blake urged people not to focus too much on whether Fay was a tropical storm or a hurricane, because either one can cause damage.

“A strong tropical storm can be very significant,” he said, pointing to wind damage in the state’s interior and the possibility of flooding from up to 15 inches expected in parts of central Florida.

Fay formed over the weekend in the Atlantic and was blamed for 14 deaths in the Carribean before hitting Florida.

Though it flooded streets in Naples, downed trees and plunged some 95,000 homes and businesses in the dark, most Floridians thought they had dodged a bullet. The worst of the storm’s wrath appeared to be 51 homes hit by a tornado in Brevard County, southeast of Orlando. Nine of the homes were totaled, said Brevard County Emergency Operations Center spokesman David Waters.

Two injuries were reported in the Brevard County tornado, and a kitesurfer who was caught in a gust of wind Monday was critically injured when he slammed into a building in front of the beach near Fort Lauderdale. Kevin Kearney, 28, was still in critical condition Tuesday, Broward General Medical Center officials and his family said.