Hurricane Isaias, is charging ever closer to the Florida as the dangerous storms threatens the entire U.S. East coast. The storm is presently blasting the Bahamas with drenching rain, strong winds and ocean surge.
Hurricane conditions could begin along the east coast of Florida, including a storm surge up to several feet above normally dry land, as soon as Saturday as the storm makes a beeline northward on a menacing path along the coast.
“There is a risk of impacts from winds, heavy rainfall, and storm surge spreading along much of the the U.S. east coast through early next week,” the National Hurricane Center wrote.
North Carolina, in particular, may be hit hard by the storm from Monday into Tuesday, where Isaias could crash ashore. A mandatory evacuation for Ocracoke Island has been ordered beginning at 6 a.m. on Saturday. Governor Roy Cooper issued a state of emergency and urged anyone who needs to evacuate to stay with family and friends or at a hotel, if possible, because of social distancing precautions at shelters.
Cooper said those needing to use shelters will be screened for symptoms be given personal protective equipment, such as masks. “With the right protection and sheltering, we can keep people safe from the storm while at the same time trying to avoid making the pandemic worse. A hurricane during a pandemic is double trouble. But the state has been carefully preparing for this scenario,” Cooper said via Twitter.
Earlier this week, Isaias dropped up to 8 inches of rain in southwest Puerto Rico, and knocked power out to more than 400,000 residents on the island.
The storm then plowed through the Dominican Republic, reshuffling its axis of rotation and strengthening more than expected.
Hurricane warnings are up for the entire Bahamas, where Isaias will likely sweep through as a Category 1 cyclone. A tropical storm warning also remains in effect for the Turks and Caicos as Isaias’s remnant rain bands finally relinquish their hold on the islands.
Stateside, hurricane warnings have been hoisted from Boca Raton to the Volusia/Brevard County Line.
The tropical threat comes as the Sunshine State continues to grapple with a sharp increase in coronavirus cases. A hurricane watch is in effect for much of Florida’s east coast.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, R, issued a state of emergency for counties along Florida’s Atlantic coast.
He said that the state is prepared to open shelters while ensuring proper protocols be taken in the face of the covid-19 pandemic.
“Very early on the division created a [personal protective equipment] reserve for hurricane season,” said DeSantis at a news conference on Friday. “Right now on hand they have 20 million masks, 22 million gloves . . . and 20,000 thermometers.”
Florida had originally planned to shut down all statewide covid-19 testing locations until Aug. 5 due to Isaias but the state appears to be reevaluating and may adjust depending on which locations are affected by the storm.
Farther up the East Coast, a close shave or direct hit are possible from Isaias, which may remain a hurricane as it treks north.
At 5 p.m. Friday, Isaias was a hurricane with peak winds of 75 mph, centered 195 miles south-southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas. The hurricane has been fighting off the effects of wind shear, which temporarily weakened it early Friday, but is showing signs of intensification.
The Hurricane Center is forecasting Isaias to continue its trek across the Bahamas as a Category 1 hurricane, entering the Central Bahamas Friday night and passing near or over the northwest Bahamas on Saturday.
“A dangerous storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 3 to 5 feet above normal tide levels in areas of onshore winds in the Bahamas,” wrote the National Hurricane Center, which is also predicting four to eight inches of rain on the Bahamas.
The storm may gain some strengthen as it passes over very warm waters over the Bahamas through Saturday morning but then may encounter more wind shear what halts any intensification. In addition, interaction with the Florida Peninsula between Saturday afternoon and Sunday could weaken Isaias from hurricane intensity to a strong tropical storm.
Although Isaias is forecast to make its closest pass Saturday night into the wee hours of Sunday morning, rain could begin in southeast Florida as soon as Friday night.
Some models push Isaias’s center moving far enough west that a landfall would occur in Florida but it could also just scrape along the coast.
Damaging wind gusts over 70 mph could occur along the Florida coastline if the storm makes landfall, but would be somewhat less if the center stays offshore. In addition to strong winds, dangerous rip currents and very heavy rainfall are likely as the storm passes. A broad 2 to 4 inches with localized 6-inch amounts is possible in eastern Florida over the weekend.
Totals would be greater, but the storm will be moving quickly.
The Hurricane Center predicts a storm surge or rise in ocean water above normally dry land of 2 to 4 feet from Jupiter Inlet to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla, with 1 to 3 feet projected from north Miami Beach to Jupiter Inlet.
Afterward, Isaias is forecast to remain a hurricane as it churns north, potentially nearing landfall in the Carolinas on Monday as a strong tropical storm. Heavy rain and flooding, strong winds and storm surge are then possible in coastal South Carolina and eastern North Carolina
The system’s strength as it comes up the coast is a significant uncertainty, as it will depend largely on its track. The oceans are replete with anomalously warm waters off the Southeast Coast, however, which could fuel intensification.
A farther inland track would feature a weaker storm, while a more delayed jaunt over land could favor a stronger landfall.
From the Delmarva Peninsula to coastal Maine, tropical storm conditions are possible from Isaias between late Monday and Wednesday from south to north.
Regardless of whether Isaias makes landfall along the East Coast, there is growing concern for a strip of heavy rainfall from Florida all the way into New England.
It’s not out of the question that broad areas see in excess of 4 inches from the system, but specific timing and amounts remain to be seen.
The extremely moist air transported north by Isaias will interact with a cold front preceding an approaching dip in the jet stream, or trough. That will help to focus the rainfall, and will probably cause at least isolated flooding issues.
The ongoing covid-19 pandemic complicates the decisions both of local emergency management officials tasked with ordering evacuations and opening shelters, and the residents who may find themselves forced to use them.
On Thursday, the American Meteorological Society released guidance on sheltering during the covid-19 pandemic, stressing “if you evacuate to a shelter, you are responsible for your health.” The document notes, however, that states and municipalities that open shelters will most likely provide for social distancing and mask use, among other precautions.
They recommended that residents procure and bring their own sanitation supplies, while also following CDC recommendations.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) plans to rely less on deployed field teams in areas where community spread of covid-19 is occurring, instead processing damage claims remotely. In addition, storm planning documents encourage officials to consider ordering those not vulnerable to storm surge or other flooding impacts to shelter in place.
Of the states most likely to be affected by the storm, Florida is in the worst shape when it comes to coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Isaias blew through Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic as a gusty tropical storm, deluging the islands with significant flooding rainfall that caused damage in Puerto Rico. Doppler radar estimated up to 8 inches fell on the southwest part of the commonwealth, where significant flooding was reported in the neighborhood of Rojo Cabo.
Images emerged on social media depicting the collapse of several structures in the community of Yauco.
Some 150,000 Puerto Ricans also lost water service for a time.
In the Dominican Republic, the National Hurricane Center was expecting rainfall totals locally approaching a foot. Pockets of heavy rainfall were continuing to affect the Dominican Republic and Haiti early Friday as Isaias’s center pulled away to the north.
Haiti is extremely vulnerable to flooding and mudslides due to the rampant deforestation that has plagued its landscape and left much of the topsoil unstable.