NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Parts of Florida and Alabama are under a tropical storm warning today as Debby churns off the Gulf Coast, leaving wary residents to closely watch a storm system already inundating some areas with rain.
Underscoring the storm's unpredictable nature, forecasters discontinued a tropical storm warning for Louisiana after forecast models indicated Debby was less likely to make a westward turn than initially predicted. Coastal Alabama and parts of Florida, including the Panhandle, remained under tropical storm warnings.
Debby already has dumped heavy rain on parts of Florida and spawned some isolated tornadoes, causing some damage to homes and knocking down power lines. High winds forced the closure of an interstate bridge that spans Tampa Bay and links St. Petersburg with areas to the southeast.
Storm tracks are difficult to predict days in advance. But as of late today, the latest forecast map shows the center of the storm 100 miles (165 km) south-southwest of Apalachicola, Fla., and likely to meander northward for several days before making landfall.
Chris Landsea, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center, said forecasters rely on computer models which were contradictory until Sunday.
"They came into a bit more of an agreement that the westward turn is less likely," he said.
Landsea said every storm is different and has different characteristics, "and in this case it's a very unpredictable storm." He said Debby could become a hurricane.