NEW ORLEANS – A tropical depression came ashore in the Florida panhandle Friday, sparing coastal Louisiana and Mississippi the first serious brush with tropical weather since two hurricanes laid waste to the area in 2005.
Forecasters downgraded the threat when the storm system moved ashore near Fort Walton Beach in the panhandle. They said the depression maintained the same intensity as it made landfall.
"We expect it to move over land and weaken," said Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The weather service discontinued tropical storm warnings that had stretched from Apalachicola, Fla., to the mouth of the Mississippi River, including metropolitan New Orleans.
"Everybody's dodging (the proverbial bullet) right now," said Bob Wagner, a weather service meteorologist in Slidell, La.
Still, officials remained wary of the dangers strong gusts of wind could pose in areas rebuilding since hurricanes Katrina and Rita killed more than 1,600 people more than two years ago.
The latest storm system had battered parts of Florida before moving into the Gulf of Mexico. No evacuations were ordered, but officials had taken precautions, opening shelters and issuing sandbags.
At 8 p.m., the storm system is expected to move northwest near 9 mph with maximum sustained winds near 35 mph. Two to 4 inches of rain was expected, and as much as 6 inches in some areas.
Isolated tornadoes could be possible in southwestern Georgia, the Florida panhandle and southeastern Alabama throughout the night.