for National Geographic News
Tropical storm Ernesto continued to confound forecasters as it came ashore early this morning in the Florida Keys with much less intensity than expected.
By midday the storm had weakened significantly to a tropical depression as it moved up the Florida peninsula.
Little damage was reported from Ernesto, which is expected to go back into the Atlantic Ocean tonight north of Cape Canaveral (map of Florida).
Two deaths were reported in separate wrecks in Florida, however, when cars skidded off rain-slick highways.
The weather system may strengthen some before it makes another landfall Thursday night.
Forecasters think Ernesto could regain tropical storm status with peak winds exceeding 40 miles (64 kilometers) an hour.
The storm's center is expected to come ashore somewhere around Charleston, South Carolina. Tropical storm watches have been issued from Savannah, Georgia, to Morehead City, North Carolina.
Ernesto began on August 24 as a tropical depression in the southeastern Caribbean Sea. The storm gathered enough strength to became the first hurricane of the Atlantic season three days later as it approached Haiti with winds of 75 miles (121 kilometers) an hour.
But the storm weakened when it crossed mountains in western Haiti and was disrupted again over the mountains of Cuba.
The storm reached the Florida Keys about 60 miles (97 kilometers) south-southwest of Miami around midnight on Wednesday, with top winds of about 45 miles (72 kilometers) an hour.
Forecasters initially thought Ernesto would regain strength as it crossed the warm waters of the Florida Straits between Cuba and Florida (read "Ernesto Defies Prediction as Storm Nears Florida" [August 2006]).
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