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Beryl sets record for early storms

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by Alexandra Seltzer on May 31, 2012

Tropical Storm Beryl made landfall in Jacksonville as the strongest tropical  storm to hit land before the beginning of the hurricane season.

Beryl packed 70 mph winds as it came ashore at about midnight Sunday. That was  stronger than 1972's Subtropical Storm Alpha, which had peak winds of about  60 mph. It also was stronger than an unnamed storm in 1908 that had top  winds of about 65 mph, according to National Hurricane Center meteorologist  Chris Landsea.

"This was a little bit stronger impact," Landsea said of Beryl.

Beryl is the second storm named before Friday's official start of the  hurricane season, following Tropical Storm Albert, which formed May 19 off  North Carolina.

But the two early storms do not portend anything for the rest of the season.

"It's been a very busy May. This is pretty rare to have," Landsea  said. "But it means nothing for the rest of the season. Sometimes you  have a very active early season and the rest of the year is busy as well,  and sometimes it flip-flops."

Take, for example, the 1997 and 1995 hurricane seasons. By late July in 1997,  five storms had formed in the Atlantic Ocean and only three more emerged the  rest of the season - just one a hurricane. In 1995, five storms formed by  Aug. 1 followed by 14 more, Landsea said.

"So you just can't use this to project what's going to happen the rest of  the year," he said.

Beryl, downgraded to a tropical depression Monday, is the only storm on the  hurricane center's radar in the Atlantic Ocean. The center is sticking to  its forecast of a 50 percent chance of a nearly average season.

Beach trips, backyard barbecues and graveside Memorial Day observances got a  good soaking Monday in southeastern Georgia and northern Florida.

Beach lifeguards turned swimmers away from the ocean because of dangerous rip  currents from Jacksonville to Tybee Island, Georgia's largest public beach  140 miles to the north.

Aside from ruining holiday plans, the rain was welcome on the Georgia coast  for bringing some relief from persistent drought. As of May 1, rainfall in  Savannah was 15 inches below normal for the past 12 months, according to the  state climatologist's office.

Emergency officials said minor flooding was reported near the coast, but the  ground was quickly soaking up the water. And the winds had eased  considerably.

"We've needed it for a long time," said Ray Parker, emergency  management director for coastal McIntosh County south of Savannah, who said  the worst damage came from trees falling on two homes overnight. "We  were lucky that we didn't get 3 to 4 inches in 30 minutes. Most of it soaked  right in before it had a chance to run off. It fell on an empty sponge."

The rainfall stopped in Savannah and other northern parts of the Georgia coast  Monday, but more was expected through today. A frontal system moving south  from the Great Lakes was expected to cause the storm do a U-turn and push it  back out to sea.

Streets in Jacksonville Beach were unusually vacant. Bands of blinding rain  alternated with dry conditions.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said much progress was made repairing Beryl's damage,  including removing trees and restoring power to homes and businesses.

"We're very fortunate this did not become a hurricane," he said. "If  it had been a couple of months later, we could have had a Category 3  hurricane."

Beryl was expected to bring 4 to 8 inches of rain to parts, with some areas  getting as much as a foot. Forecasters said the storm surge and high tide  could bring 2 to 4 feet of flooding in northeastern Florida and Georgia, and  1 to 2 feet in South Carolina.

Veterans groups, meanwhile, held outdoor Memorial Day ceremonies despite the  grim forecast.

At Savannah's historic Bonaventure Cemetery, American Legion members worked  through a downpour to make sure its plot for veterans had a small American  flag planted by each headstone.

The rain paused just as a crowd of about 100 began arriving. Robert Schulz,  80, who served in the Marines in the Korean War, held a folded umbrella in  one hand as he saluted with the other during the service. Schulz said he and  his wife considered skipping the ceremony for the first time in 10 years.

"I said it would be terrible if nobody showed up," Barbara Schulz  said. "We had to come for our veterans."

As they left the cemetery, Army veteran Byron Stephens, 76, and his wife,  Marilyn, said they were determined to attend the Memorial Day ceremony  regardless of the weather.

"It didn't stop people from fighting in inclement weather," Marilyn  Stephens said. "This is what Memorial Day is all about."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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