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macon.com MIDDAY UPDATE: Tropical storm not expected to track north; Ga. colleges hammer out plan to cut budgets; Lawsuit targets county's invocation

Tropical Storm Fay will likely not become a hurricane, forecasters said today, relieving fears the zig-zagging storm would return from the Atlantic with punishing force later this week.

However, the storm continued to plod up the peninsula with the possibility of dumping up to 20 inches of rain in some areas - good news for parched farmland in northern Florida and much of Georgia, but bad for flood-prone areas in both states.

"It's very seldom we're hoping for a hurricane, but we are," said Randy Branch, a farmer in southeast Georgia where lingering drought has left about a third of his cotton and peanut crops bare this summer. "We need some rain pretty bad."

The storm hit the Florida Keys on Monday, veered over the Gulf and then traversed east across the state Tuesday on a path that would have taken it over the Atlantic before it curved toward the Florida-Georgia border.

Forecasters had originally expected Fay to get a dose of energy when it moved over the ocean and possibly become a hurricane. But the storm's center remained just inland early Wednesday and forecasters said it may not go over the water until the afternoon.

There were no new reports of damage today and only minor street flooding in the Melbourne area, where Fay was predicted to dump between 6 and 12 inches of rain.

A hurricane watch was discontinued for parts of north Florida and Georgia. A tropical storm warning was extended, covering an area from Fort Pierce to Altamaha Sound in Georgia. A warning means such conditions are expected within 24 hours, while a watch means such conditions are possible within 36 hours.

The storm was near Cape Canaveral at 11 a.m. today. Its maximum sustained winds were back up to about 50 mph and it was moving north at about 3 mph.

National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Letro said it's possible southern Georgia could receive 10 to 20 inches of rain - enough to cause severe flooding - if it makes a second landfall.

– Associated Press

Ga. colleges hammer out plan to cut budgets

The state Board of Regents is trying to figure out how to cut $136 million from the budget for Georgia's colleges and universities.

The regents will meet today to hammer out a plan for meeting Gov. Sonny Perdue's statewide budget cuts. Most state agencies have been asked to plan for at least a 6 percent cut to their budgets as part of a strategy to deal with shortfalls in tax revenue this fiscal year.

College officials say the cuts likely will mean hiring freezes, layoffs and delays in construction across the state.

– Associated Press

Lawsuit targets county's invocation

The federal appeals court in Atlanta will take up the perplexing case of whether governments should allow invocations before starting their meetings.

The arguments center around whether the Cobb County Commission and planning board should be allowed to hold religious invocations before meetings. Critics say they are "overtly Christian prayers" that send a message that the religion is sponsored by the county.

A federal judge has already refused to ban the commission from opening its session with a prayer.

Religious invocations are a fairly common practice in Georgia.

Christian leaders routinely ask state legislators to bow their heads in the name of Jesus each day the General Assembly is in session, and many local governments do so as well.

– Associated Press

WHAT'S COMING UP ON MACON.COM

– Macon police are beginning to trail with their new Glock automatic .45 pistols with higher ballistic capabilities. Come back to our Web site for video of the training.

– The Peach County Commission will meet today to consider hospital funding. Come back to our Web site to find out what happens.

VISIT US AGAIN SOON

We invite you to check out our Web site again tomorrow for the Midday Update. Monday through Friday, Online Editor Beth MacFadyen will bring you timely information about what Telegraph staffers are working on, plus news we think you need to know immediately. Send feedback to bmacfadyen@macon.com

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