Ernesto Surprises Forecasters

Ernesto
KEY LARGO, FLA -

Florida braced for a hurricane that never came.

Tropical Storm Ernesto surprised forecasters by failing to strengthen yesterday before reaching the southern tip of the state, where it delivered drenching rain but none of the heavy winds or damage that had been feared. And even rains weren't that bad -- about half an inch fell at Miami International Airport.

The decaying system made landfall at 11:30 last night on Plantation Key with 45 mile-an-hour winds. Earlier today, it crossed over onto the peninsula and is expected to continue over Florida as a weak tropical storm. Its top sustained winds decreased to 40 miles-an-hour. One of the highest wind gusts recorded was 58 miles-an-hour in Key Biscayne.

Forecasters say Ernesto could weaken to a tropical depression later today, but that rain-bands with strong, gusty winds will continue along Florida's east coast throughout the day.

At 8 a-m Eastern time, the center of the storm was about 75 miles southwest of West Palm Beach and moving north near eight miles-an-hour.

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