TAMPA -- The Florida Highway Patrol reopened the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to traffic at 3 a.m. Wednesday, ending three days of being shut down because of tropical storm force winds.
Sustained wind speeds atop the bridge, which early Tuesday gusted to 62 mph, have declined to 20 mph, with gusts of 22 mph, FHP Sgt. Steve Gaskins said at 5:30 a.m. today.
The source of the trouble was the slobbery, slow-moving Tropical Storm Debby, which spent days meandering in the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall. She has since been downgraded to a tropical depression, according to the National Weather Service.
The Skyway, which on average handles 52,000 vehicles traveling in both directions each day, had been closed since 4 p.m. Sunday, which Gaskins termed "an unprecented occurrence."
The only other long-term closure was on Sept. 14, 2001, during Tropical Storm Gabrielle, which only lasted a little more than eight hours, he said.
The bridge, which spans Tampa Bay, links Manatee County with its northern neighbors via Interstate 275.
The National Weather Service early this morning said Debby was moving eastward across the state, with drier air moving in behind.
"This will put an end to the coastal flooding and measurable rain chances from north to south today," the weather service's Ruskin office said in a forecast discussion posted on its website.
Meteorologists canceled a flood watch, but predicted river flooding would continue, "as there is a lag between the time when the rain falls, and the time the water actually reaches the rivers," it said.
Other Tampa Bay area bridges are open, but are being monitored by troopers as weather conditions continue to change, officials said.
"The Courtney Campbell Causeway, the Gandy Bridge and the Howard Frankland Bridge are being constantly monitored by Highway Patrol troopers to ensure the safety of passing motorists," Gaskins has said. As weather conditions change, roadways will be evaluated regarding openings or closures, he added.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.