Tropical Storm Andrea pounds parts of Florida

Storm could bring severe weather to Orlando area

ORLANDO, Fla. - Tropical Storm Andrea hammered Florida with rain, heavy winds, and tornadoes Thursday as it moved over land toward the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas, promising sloppy commutes and waterlogged vacation getaways through the beginning of the weekend..

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As of 8 p.m. Thursday, Andrea was about 45 miles west of Gainesville, after making landfall hours earlier in Florida's Big Bend area. Its maximum sustained winds had fallen to 50 mph and it was moving northeast at 15 mph.

Several tornado warnings were issued in Central Florida on Thursday, but they later expired. A tornado watch remains in effect until 10 p.m. for most of the region.

Minor street flooding -- but no serious damage -- was reported in parts of Central Florida, and a flood watch also remains in effect for the entire region.  A tropical storm warning has also been issued for Flagler, Marion and Sumter counties.

Andrea, the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, has maximum sustained winds of 60 mph winds and is moving northeast at 17 mph.

"All Floridians, especially those within warning areas, should be closely monitoring this storm and finalizing any necessary preparations," said Florida Department of Emergency Management Director Bryan W. Koon. "It is important to follow all instructions from local officials and watch for updates via local media, and on and @FLSERT."

In the Orlando area, heavy rain, possible flooding and the threat of isolated tornadoes are in the forecast.

"This is dropping an inch of rain per hour in some parts of the viewing area," said Broughton, adding that some an estimated 4 to 8 inches of rain is expected across Central Florida.  "All of the strong weather is on the east side of Andrea, so the potential of severe weather will linger for the entire day."

A large oak tree was toppled late Wednesday night on Hyer Avenue in Orlando, but no injuries were reported.  Two trees also fell along Hiawassee Road in Orlando. Earlier, a car crashed on a wet Orlando roadway, teetering on a guardrail overlooking Interstate 4.  The driver was not seriously hurt.

Officials urged motorists to drive with caution as roads across the state will be slick.

"Residents can expect to see heavy rains through Friday and into the weekend with the potential for localized flooding," a news release from Orange County stated, adding that workers were checking drainage systems.   

Several Central Florida cities, including Ocala, Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach, are offering sandbags so residents can protect their homes and property. Some traffic lights were reported to be out as the storm moved through Central Florida.

At least two tornadoes touched down in the Tampa Bay area early Thursday, causing minor damage. The National Weather Service says no injuries were reported. The tornadoes were spotted in Myakka City and Sun City Center, both south of Tampa.  In addition, officials closed the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa because of high winds.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Florida Park Service closed 30 state park campgrounds because of Andrea.  Weeki Wachee Springs also canceled its Thursday boat tours, animal shows and mermaid performances because of the storm.

Florida's Atlantic coast will see a moderate to high risk of rip currents through the weekend.

There's a 60 percent chance of rain on Friday, with highs near 90.

Rain chances are at 50 percent on Saturday and 40 percent on Sunday.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30.

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