Tropical Storm Barry Weakens into Depression

MIAMI (AP) - Tropical Storm Barry has weakened into a tropical depression as it moves toward Tampa Bay this morning, though its rains are bringing some relief to the drought-parched region in its path.

Rain was falling early this morning throughout Florida, where dry conditions had left Lake Okeechobee at its lowest recorded level and allowed an isolated brush fire on the Georgia-Florida line to burn for weeks. The storm was expected to drop three to six inches of rain on parts of Florida and southeastern Georgia Saturday.

Isolated areas could get up to ten inches of rain.

Kim Brabander, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, says that the rain will help but the region is so far below rainfall that the drought conditions are likely to remain.

Forecasters have discontinued the tropical storm warnings and watches issued for stretches of the Gulf Coast. At 11 am, the storm was about 100 miles north-northwest of Fort Myers. The depression's forward motion had slowed to about 23 miles per hour and maximum sustained winds were near 35 miles per hour.

The storm's winds are forecast to weaken further as it moves north, but it is expected to bring rain all along the Atlantic seaboard, reaching South Carolina by Sunday morning and New England by Monday.

The storm developed on the first official day of a hurricane season 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 ten of them becoming hurricanes and three to five of them in the strong category.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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