Beryl weaker but still damp

Even the lingering effects of Tropical Depression Beryl could not keep people from celebrating Memorial Day on Folly Beach. The outer bands of Beryl produced scattered showers in the Lowcountry, but not enough to ruin the holiday. (Brad Nettles/postandcourier.com) 5/18/12

The Charleston area is under a flood watch this morning as the remnants of Tropical Storm Beryl barrel up the coastline.

The storm is expected to continue on a northeast path and cross through our area later today. Beryl, now a tropical depression, should bring torrential rainfall to the region.

The Lowcountry can expect 3 to 5 inches of rain through early Wednesday, with as much as 7 inches of rain in some places. This will lead to an increased risk of flash flooding, despite the ongoing drought, according to the National Weather Service. The risk for flash flooding will increase in downtown Charleston and other spots along the coast when high tide arrives later this afternoon and continues into early Wednesday.

The storm is currently packing sustained winds of about 30 mph, with stronger gusts possible. Beryl isn’t supposed to strengthen much today, but it could gather a little steam as it approaches the coast and accelerates on Wednesday. The storm could muster enough energy by then to reclaim its tropical storm status.

A small craft advisory remains in effect through late tonight, with boaters and swimmers urged to stay out of the water. Dangerous surf conditions, including rip currents, are expected to increase with the storm’s approach.

“The conditions are going to support stronger, more frequent rip currents so only the more experienced surfers should go out into the waters,” Taylor said.

Tropical Storm Beryl left little damage after making landfall with 70 mph winds around midnight Sunday at Jacksonville, Fla. Officials said the storm mostly gave the city the chance to put its natural disaster plans to the test.About 20,000 customers remained without electricity in the city Monday evening.

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

Beryl was expected to bring up to 10 inches of rain to parts of northern Florida to southeastern North Carolina, with some areas getting as much as a foot and a half, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Monday night. Forecasters said Beryl is expected to produce up to six inches of rain in eastern North Carolina and South Carolina.

The official start of the hurricane season is Friday.

What once was formidable Tropical Storm Beryl was downgraded Monday to a tropical depression, but one still able to make its presence known, weather experts said.

Beryl barreled ashore in northern Florida, causing widespread power outages, and then turned more northerly. With the storm’s eye inland, it began losing strength.

What remains of the storm is expected to head northeast and cross southern Georgia and cruise along the shoreline of South Carolina. Although still packing some wind gusts, what’s left of Beryl will leave mostly a damp impression, the National Weather Service said.

Rainfall totals in the Lowcountry could top 2 inches before Beryl moves out early Wednesday. Three-quarters of an inch of rain is possible today, with another 2 or more inches tonight, the Weather Service said.

Cloudy skies, a high near 83 and southeasterly winds between 13 and 15 mph are forecast today, between 11 and 16 mph tonight.

The Weather Service said the “deep tropical moisture” wrapped up in Beryl assures “a very efficient rainfall production.” The chance of rain is 80 percent today and 90 percent tonight.

On Monday, local rainfall produced on the fringes of Beryl was negligible. Rainfall Monday at Charleston International Airport measured 0.26 inches, and just 0.02 inches in downtown Charleston.

The highs for the day were 86 at the airport and 80 in the city; and the lows 72 at the airport and 76 in the city.

Winds on Monday at the airport averaged 17 mph, with a maximum gust at 38 mph. Some scattered power outages were reported by South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. for customers on James Island and in the Hollywood area.

A brief squall forced the delay and relocation of a Memorial Day ceremony from Parks Cemetery in Summerville to the VFW hall in Ladson.

Two afternoon boat trips to Fort Sumter were canceled Monday due to rough weather in Charleston Harbor. A spokesman for Fort Sumter Tours said the 2:30 and 4 p.m. boat trips were called off after an earlier trip to the fort encountered weather-related problems. The Memorial Day cancellations left unhappy a lot of people who were hoping to make the trips, the spokesman said.

Farther south, 70 mph winds hit Jacksonville. Beach trips, backyard barbecues and graveside Memorial Day observances got a good soaking 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. Skip Sasser, who oversees the island’s lifeguards as its fire chief, said beach traffic was unusually thin for a holiday. The ocean was declared off-limits to swimmers for the second day in a row.

“It’s been raining intermittently, so it’s chased a lot of them off,” Sasser said. “There was a lot of traffic this morning heading westbound out of Tybee.”

Veterans groups, meanwhile, soldiered on with 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 reserved for veterans had a small U.S. flag planted by each headstone.

“When we were setting up, I had a different shirt on, and I got soaked to the skin,” said Jim Grismer, commander of American Legion Post 135 in Savannah. “I had so many people trying to talk me into moving it inside. But I said then you can’t have the live-firing salute and the flag-raising.”

The rain paused just as a crowd of about 100 people began arriving. Robert Schulz, an 80-year-old 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 briefly 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.”

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

The Associated Press contributed to this report.