Parched Texas welcomes tropical storm, wants more

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (AP) - July 29, 2011

Don was downgraded to a tropical depression as what remained of it came ashore in a sparsely populated area of ranch lands near Baffin Bay late Friday. The National Hurricane Center ended all tropical storm warnings along the Texas coast and said in its 10 p.m. advisory that Don was moving west-northwest across the coast at 14 mph.

The system's maximum sustained winds were at 35 mph and Don was expected to dissipate as it moved inland Saturday. In total, Don would drop 1 to 2 inches of rain along its path, with a maximum of 3 inches in isolated areas, the advisory said.

What was left of Don was little more than a weak low pressure system, said Lixion Avila, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center.

"It's a very weak system," Avila said.

Cotton growers who scrambled to harvest in recent days, but still left the bulk of their fluffy bolls in the field could breathe a sigh of relief since National Weather Service stations in Corpus Christi and Brownsville said rainfall was about a ½ inch in most areas. For other farmers and ranchers, it will be back to watching the skies longingly for rain.

"It was not nearly as much rainfall or wind as originally forecast," said National Weather Service meteorologist Joseph Tomaselli. "It would have badly damaged the cotton crop." The strongest winds recorded were about 36 mph at an offshore buoy, he said.

Onshore, meteorologist Lara Keys in the service's Corpus Christi office said winds gusted to 23 mph.

"It hit dry air and sheared and it tore it apart really," Keys said.

Almost all of Texas is in extreme drought, and even Don's projected few inches of rain wouldn't have cured that, but at this point any moisture is appreciated.

"It was somewhat of a dud," said Carlos Cascos, the top elected official in Cameron County at Texas' southernmost tip. "It looked huge and powerful on the radar."

"We have another one out there that we'll be watching as well," Cascos said, referring to a new disturbance in the Caribbean.

Earlier Friday, storm preparations in South Texas were light with some people seeing it as a drill for things to come.

"In a way, this tropical storm is a pre-test for an actual hurricane," said Luis Canales of McAllen as he roped a grill and patio furniture to his brother's camper trailer at Isla Blanca Park at the southern tip of Padre Island. "It helps sharpen us up for what we need."

Cameron County asked people with RVs and other vehicles prone to taking flight in high winds to move them out of its parks on the island, but few seemed to be doing it.

Like Canales, Janie Rodriguez of Weslaco just secured loose items around her motor home at the park. She took down an awning but decided to leave a fishing boat, trailer and electric car with the motor home.

"They're saying it's OK to leave your trailers," she said. "I'm just picking up what would blow away with the wind."

The Padre Island National Seashore closed its beaches late Thursday. Nueces County, where Corpus Christi is located, restricted primitive camping on its beaches, and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Del Mar College and the University of Texas-Brownsville closed their campuses.

But an annual fishing tournament in Port Mansfield, north of Brownsville, began Friday as scheduled. The offshore division was canceled, but fishermen still cast their lines closer to shore.

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