MIAMI – Tropical Storm Barry weakened into a tropical depression as it moved toward Tampa Bay on Saturday.
Forecasters discontinued the tropical storm warnings and watches issued for stretches of the Gulf Coast as Barry was about 100 miles north-northwest of Fort Myers.
The depression's sustained winds had slowed to near 35 mph and it was moving north-northeast at about 23 mph.
Barry brought heavy rain to a parched Florida, along with strong winds and heavy surf along the state's Gulf coast.
Rain was falling throughout the state, where droughts conditions have left Lake Okeechobee at its lowest recorded level and allowed an isolated brush fire on the Georgia-Florida border to burn for weeks. The storm was expected to drop 3 to 6 inches of rain on parts of the state Saturday. Isolated areas could get up to 10 inches of rain.
"It'll help a little bit, but everyone is so far below rainfall that we're still going to be under drought conditions," said Kim Brabander, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "To really alleviate the drought conditions we're going to need anywhere from 30 to 40 inches of rain."
At 8 a.m. EDT, Barry was centered in the Gulf of Mexico about 85 miles southwest of Tampa. It had sustained winds of about 50 mph near the center with higher gusts and was moving north-northeast at about 20 mph. Wind gusts of up to 47 mph were reported on the state's southern and eastern coasts Saturday morning.
The storm was not expected to strengthen into a hurricane, said Dave Roberts, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center.
A tropical storm warning was issued from Bonita Beach on Florida's southwest coast northward to Keaton Beach, near the state's Big Bend area, as Barry was expected to make landfall on the Peninsula's central or northern Gulf coast by Saturday evening. A tropical storm watch was issued for the area between Keaton Beach west to St. Marks, south of Tallahassee.
The National Weather Service also issued a tornado watch for 26 Florida counties as Barry inched closer.
The storm's winds were forecast to weaken as it moves north, but Barry was expected to bring rain across the Atlantic seaboard, reaching North Carolina by late Sunday and New England by late Monday.
The storm developed Friday, the first official day of a hurricane season that forecasters have said they expect to be busier than normal. The National Weather Service said it expects 13 to 17 tropical storms, with seven to 10 becoming hurricanes and three to five in the strong category.
"There is no correlation at all between activity in the early part of the season and later parts," said Lixion Avila, a hurricane specialist at the center.
The hurricane center said Barry threatened to bring dangerous battering waves, coastal flooding up to 5 feet. Tropical storm force winds extended outward up to 90 miles, forecasters said.
Barry formed more than three weeks after the first named storm of the year — Subtropical Storm Andrea — developed off Florida's eastern coast. Andrea skirted the southern Atlantic coast but caused minimal damage.