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Tropical Storm Debby churns in Gulf

MIAMI – Tropical Storm Debby formed Saturday in the Gulf of Mexico, interfering with oil and gas production and putting officials on alert for flooding and strong winds from Texas to Florida.

At least one tornado linked to the storm touched down in southwest Florida, but no injuries were reported. Heavy squalls pounded parts of the state.

Debby was about 215 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River, with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph.

The center of Debby was expected to linger in the Gulf during the next few days with no landfall in the immediate forecast.

While the storm’s track is far from certain, the National Hurricane Center has Debby skirting the Louisiana coast and heading west toward Texas. However, some forecasts have the storm moving east toward Florida.

Some strengthening is expected, and Debby could be near hurricane force winds by Monday night.

Forecasters warned of up to six inches of rain along the coast, with isolated amounts of 10 inches.

It was the first time four tropical storms have been recorded before July 1 during the Atlantic hurricane season since record keeping began in 1851.

Debby forced the suspension of 8 percent of the region’s oil and gas production.

The government reported that nine production platforms and one drilling rig were evacuated. The suspended crude production amounts to about 2 percent of U.S production and about 0.1 percent of global production. The reduced production is not expected to impact oil prices unless the storm strengthens and forces more production platforms to close.

A tropical storm warning was issued for part of the southeast Louisiana coast. Officials there have been monitoring the weather closely for the last several days. Some low-lying areas close to the coast flood easily in rough weather.

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