A family plays in the waves as Tropical Storm Erin approaches the Texas coast, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007, in North Padre Island, Texas. Tropical Storm Erin formed Wednesday in the Gulf of Mexico and headed toward Texas, threatening to bring downpours to a state that already has had one of its rainiest summers on record.
|CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas - Tropical Storm Erin was downgraded to a tropical depression as it made landfall Thursday morning on the Gulf Coast, but flood-weary Texas was still bracing for torrential downpours and flash flooding.
Erin came ashore at about 7 a.m. at Copano Bay, about 25 miles northeast of Corpus Christi.
"We're very fortunate. We're always prepared for the worst and we pray that we're wrong," said Corpus Christi Fire Department Deputy Chief Michael Hernandez. "For the most part it looks like we dodged a bullet."
Meanwhile, Hurricane Dean was strengthening in the open Atlantic, and early Thursday became the first hurricane of the Atlantic season.
Erin's winds fell to 35 mph, lower than the 39 mph threshold for tropical storms. The center continued to move to northwest toward the already soggy Texas Hill Country in central Texas at around 15 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Inland, the corridor between San Antonio and Austin was facing between 3 to 10 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service.
The weather service said 33 counties were under a flash flood watch through Friday morning, including the Hill Country, which has been pounded by deadly storms and record rainfall this summer.
So far this year, Corpus Christi has received nearly 33 inches of rain _ more than 15 inches above normal. The summer storms poured record rainfall across Texas and parts of Oklahoma and Kansas, with floods killing 16 people since mid-June. One July storm dropped 17 inches of rain in 24 hours. It brought Texas out of drought status for the first time in more than a decade.
The weather service said isolated tornadoes were possible Thursday along the middle Texas coast.
The storm did not keep customers away from the Bayside Express convenience store in Seadrift, a fishing town 60 miles northeast of Corpus Christi, said clerk Jamie Hartman.
"It's just raining real hard and blowing real hard," she said Thursday morning. "There's not really any flooding, but I've had some people tell me that saw some trees lifted up."
Erin formed late Tuesday as the fifth depression of the Atlantic hurricane season and was upgraded to a tropical storm Wednesday when its maximum sustained wind speed hit 40 mph.
Gov. Rick Perry ordered emergency vehicles and personnel, including National Guard troops, to the Harlingen and Corpus Christi areas. Shell Oil Co. evacuated 188 people Wednesday from offshore facilities in the storm's path.
Corpus Christi hadn't asked for any evacuations, said Ted Nelson, a city spokesman, and was keeping only a handful of people at the emergency operations center overnight.
Nelson said that with 3 1/2 months left in the Atlantic hurricane season, the storm was "a nice little wake-up call" for people to make sure they are prepared for more severe weather.
Some weren't taking any chances.
"We came out to get as much beach time in as possible," said John Cullison of the Dallas area, who was vacationing with his family and planned to leave southern Texas on Thursday instead of Friday. "After the hurricanes from a few years ago, you have to take it kind of serious."
As Dean became a hurricane, forecasters at the hurricane center said early Thursday they were beginning to see an eye form at the storm's center.
At 11 a.m. EDT, Dean's top sustained winds were 90 mph, up from 75 mph earlier in the day. It remained a Category 1 storm and was centered about 350 miles east of Barbados. It was moving west at around 23 mph and its center should approach the Lesser Antilles on Friday.
About 2 to 5 inches of rain were expected, with mountainous areas getting up to 7 inches.
The Caribbean islands of Dominica and St. Lucia issued hurricane warnings as Dean approached.
Tropical storm warnings were issued for the islands of Antigua; Barbados; Guadeloupe and its dependencies, Saba and St. Eustatius; Martinique; St. Vincent and the Grenadines; and St. Maarten. A tropical storm watch was in effect for Grenada and its dependencies. A warning means storm conditions are expected within 24 hours, a watch means 36 hours.
In the Pacific, Flossie was downgraded from a tropical storm to a tropical depression, a day after sideswiping Hawaii's Big Island with only intermittent rain and moderate winds.
Hurricane specialists expect this year's Atlantic hurricane season _ June 1 to Nov. 30 _ to be busier than average, with as many as 16 tropical storms, nine of them strengthening into hurricanes. Ten tropical storms developed in the Atlantic last year, but only two made landfall in the United States.