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National Hurricane Center: Tropical Storm Debby Could Continue to Weaken

Aired August 23, 2000 - 1:02 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Our top story: indecisive Debby, a tropical storm, then a hurricane, and now a tropical storm again, probably a hurricane again by tomorrow. Forecasters fear Debby's strongest days lie ahead, and South Florida may lie in its path.

At the moment, the storm is churning just north of the Dominican Republic with top sustained winds of 70 miles an hour. It is on a westward course that should take it right over the warm, open waters it needs to bulk up.

While still a hurricane, Debby skirted Puerto Rico yesterday, bringing gusty winds and several inches of rain, but little apparent damage. Puerto Rico's governor declared, in his words, a "return to normalcy" today.

Well, things are decidedly not normal on the Florida Keys today as tourists and other nonresidents are being asked to move north.

On that note, we turn to Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

And what is the latest?

MAX MAYFIELD, DIR., NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Well, Natalie, if you look at the satellite picture behind me, you'll see a big flurry- up of thunderstorm activity in the infrared loop here. But if you look at the visible, I think what we really see is the little low- level center is moving out ahead of the thunderstorm activity. And this is the little low-level swirl that we've been following and it's been very disrupted by the mountains of Hispanola. We also have some strong upper-level winds. That really inhibiting the development.

What we're really concerned about, though, there still seems to be a mid-level turning back in this area. So we're not really sure if it's going to reform a new center or not. We do have a plane on its way down there right now. And once the plane gets out there, we'll have a little better feel for how strong this really is. I would not be a bit surprised to see it weaken further during the afternoon.

ALLEN: What does that say, then, to reports we have heard that it would strengthen, likely, and get back to hurricane status?

MAYFIELD: Well, this is really good news. The last advisory we had this morning had the center lobe farther off the north coast there of both Hispanola and Cuba. If this low-level center continues to be the dominant center, it's going to move west or more towards Cuba, and that's really good news. We could even have the possibility of it not coming back. We're not sure of that yet, so we don't want people to let down their guard. We're really going to have to wait for the 5:00 p.m. advisory before we can really incorporate all this data that we're getting in this afternoon from the aircraft.

ALLEN: Right. Just because of this latest report doesn't mean you would tell tourists to head back into the Keys?

MAYFIELD: Oh, no, no, no, no. We don't want people to let down their guard yet. And the Keys, they are so fragile down there and they just didn't have any time. Right now, we're forecasting it to regain hurricane strength, and they just really didn't have an option. So at least start getting some of the nonresidents out of there.

ALLEN: All right, Max Mayfield, thanks so much. We'll continue to keep in close contact with you.

MAYFIELD: Thank you.

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