GULF SHORES, Ala. – Tropical Storm Arlene (search) fizzled out after sloshing ashore with sustained winds of about 60 mph, weakening to a tropical depression. Initial damage reports were minimal as the storm hit the same area that was devastated by Hurricane Ivan nine months ago.
Many had feared that Arlene, the first named storm of the Atlantic (search) hurricane season, would set back efforts to rebuild homes still patched with flimsy tarps. But although it dropped upwards of five inches of rain in some areas, temporarily flooded a few roads and caused scattered power outages, many residents felt fortunate.
"This is not much of a storm compared to a hurricane," said Jim Hudgens, whose home in Milton, Fla., was damaged by flooding from Ivan (search). He rode out Arlene with his wife and bedridden mother-in-law in the trailer they now share, ignoring a call to voluntarily evacuate low-lying areas.
"I think everybody was overreacting to this one," Hudgens said. "They were going out for gas, emptying the stores. You couldn't get anything at Wal-Mart."
Kim and Donald Carter reacted similarly to Hudgens. They didn't stock up on generators or tarps or batteries. Instead, they were looking for sun hats.
"Hopefully, the sun will come out tomorrow and we can get out and walk," said Kim Carter, who was celebrating her first wedding anniversary with her husband.
Arlene came ashore just west of Pensacola, Fla., a bit east of where Ivan hit with 120-mph wind on Sept. 16. Ivan, blamed for 29 deaths in Florida, was one of four hurricanes to batter Florida within weeks of each other last summer.
There were no immediate reports of deaths blamed on the storm Saturday, but one woman died Friday after being pulled from strong surf on Miami Beach, more than 500 miles southeast of the landfall point.
Arlene later weakened to a tropical depression and was moving north across Alabama Sunday with top sustained winds of 25 mph. A flood watch was in effect for parts of Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana, but all hurricane and tropical storm warnings were lifted.
While groups of spectators gathered on the shore to watch the hammering surf, a few surfers hit the 20-foot waves at Gulf Shores. Police ordered about seven boys and men out of the waves.
National Weather Service meteorologist Gary Beeler in Mobile called Arlene a typical early season tropical storm — "a rainmaker and a little coastal flooding."
It wasn't even as big a rainmaker as some thunderstorms that drenched the Pensacola area this spring. April was Pensacola's wettest-ever month at 24.46 inches, Beeler said.
But the storm was good practice nevertheless for emergency procedures after Ivan.
"We've had enough experience, but it's a good way to test some things we didn't do so well in Ivan," Beeler said. "The inland counties may have heightened their awareness more. ... We know Ivan cleaned their clock."
Damage assessments were just beginning, but Tomer Arie, 29, said Arlene didn't cause any more damage to his blue-roofed rental home in Gulf Breeze. He was more worried about what it did to his pocketbook by scaring tourists off Pensacola Beach, Fla., where he is an airbrush artist.
Leigh Ann Gill, who just moved back into her Pensacola house five weeks ago after damage from Ivan had finally been repaired, thought about hitting a shelter Saturday but ended up spending part of the time in a much more comfortable place — her pool.
A full-blown hurricane is another matter.
"If another Ivan comes through," she said, "we're leaving."