Fred soaking Cuba, Florida Keys as Tropical Storm Grace forms and threatens Puerto Rico

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South Florida remained under a flood watch through late Sunday and a tropical storm warning was in effect for the Florida Keys and Southwest Florida — but there was also a growing sense of relief across the region about barely-holding-it-together Tropical Depression Fred.

At 5 a.m. Saturday, the National Hurricane Center still projected Fred to travel up the Gulf of Mexico with most of Florida outside the cone of concern, with the exception of the Panhandle, which could see Fred’s landfall sometime Monday.

Forecasters said it is still likely to strengthen in the Gulf of Mexico, possibly becoming a tropical storm again on Saturday. For South Florida, the storm was expected to amount to no more than a soggy weekend.

In Key West, likely to feel some of the first effects, some tours and events were being canceled but tourists out on the street said they had no plans of packing up.

“It’s just going to be more of an adventure,” said Kristen Marciniec, 47, from behind the wheel of a rented golf cart with Faith Morin, 37, both from Massachusetts. “We’ve talked to locals. They’re not too concerned.”

Fred, though disorganized, was dropping heavy rains across Cuba and the Keys, and remained a concern for South Florida. With the shift west in track, forecasters dropped projections a bit but heavy and widespread downpours were still expected — from 3 to 6 inches and up to 8 in spots — from through early Sunday. That much rain can be trouble for flood-prone areas.

Otherwise, the winds could be blustery at times but forecasters said there was only a small chance that the Florida Keys and west coast could see tropical-storm-level gusts.

“It’s going to be a wet weekend,” said Robert Molleda, a severe weather expert for the service in Miami. “It certainly doesn’t look like a good weekend to be out.”

As of the 5 a.m. Saturday advisory, Fred remained disorganized about 90 miles south of Key West, with sustained winds of about 35 miles per hour, while dousing parts of Cuba and the southeastern Bahamas with heavy rain. It was moving west at 13 mph and should move near or across the Florida Keys Saturday, according to the hurricane center.

On the forecast track, Fred was expected to pass near or west of the lower Florida Keys on Saturday, and pass near or west of the west coast of the Florida peninsula Saturday night and Sunday.

Fred could see some additional strengthening before making its final landfall in the Florida Panhandle. The tropical storm should then weaken as it moves inland and crawls up Florida’s west coast, the hurricane center says. It should be a depression again by the time it reaches Alabama or Georgia.

Tropical Storm Grace

Grace, 5 a.m. Saturday
Grace, 5 a.m. Saturday

As Fred slogged over Cuba, Tropical Storm Grace formed Saturday morning, with Hispaniola in the cone of concern.

Grace is forecast to move over the Leeward Islands Saturday night and then over the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Sunday before going over the Dominican Republic on Monday.

On Saturday morning, according to the 5 a.m. advisory from the hurricane center, it was about 420 miles east of the Leeward Islands with maximum sustained wind of about 40 mph. It was moving west at 22 mph.

Several tropical storm warnings and watches have been put into effect.

A Tropical Storm Warning has been issued for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, including Vieques and Culebra.

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for:

Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Montserrat

Saba and Sint Eustatius

Sint Maarten

St. Martin and St. Barthelemy

U.S. Virgin Islands

Puerto Rico, including Vieques and Culebra

A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect for:

British Virgin Islands

Storm preparedness

For now, governments, businesses and residents on Friday across Florida were preparing for an expected deluge from Fred.

At Zoo Miami, workers were storing dry food like grain and hay, and monitoring water levels in exhibit pools and moats. Officials may close the zoo Saturday if the rain is forecast to get too bad.

Long-planned pool parties, camping trips and outdoor charity events got axed. Boaters bid adieu to their plans: Saturday’s Bonito Blast, a Treasure Coast fishing tournament that raises money for wounded veterans, was canceled.

In Key West, tour companies, like Peak Charters, were halting weekend excursions, just in case. “We should be expected rain & windy. Nothing too crazy,” the company wrote on its Facebook page, under the hashtag: “#FreakingFred.”

Taylor Freyer, of Sarasota, was in town with a dozen friends to celebrate her 28th birthday on Monday. Fred wasn’t going to ruin their vacation, they said.

“We were going to go on a tiki boat but that got canceled,” Freyer said, as she and her friends were getting ready to ride off on rented scooters. “We’re going lobstering Monday.”

On Miami Beach, some hotels were also taking some precautionary steps, installing barriers to deal with potential flooding.

Cody Lazarz and Denton Wright, workers at the W Hotel on South Beach, install flood protection barriers on the doors of the Oren Salon, on the ground floor of the property along Collins Avenue, on Friday morning, August 13, 2021, in preparation for Tropical Depression Fred, which could strengthen to a Tropical Storm as it nears South Florida.
Cody Lazarz and Denton Wright, workers at the W Hotel on South Beach, install flood protection barriers on the doors of the Oren Salon, on the ground floor of the property along Collins Avenue, on Friday morning, August 13, 2021, in preparation for Tropical Depression Fred, which could strengthen to a Tropical Storm as it nears South Florida.

Flooding rain main threat to South Florida, forecasters say

Miami-Dade, Broward and the Keys are in for a wet weekend, with three to seven inches of rain possible starting Friday. The bad weather will stay through the weekend and into Monday, with some isolated areas possibly seeing up to 10 inches of rain. A similar forecast was issued for Central Florida north towards the Big Bend region.

Urban and small stream flooding are possible. Some areas in northern Florida could also see moderate river flooding. Hazardous marine conditions, including a high risk for rip currents across all Atlantic beaches will also be possible through the weekend, especially on Saturday.

The Florida Keys tropical storm warning is in effect west of Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas. The Florida Bay is also under a warning. Forecasters have also extended the tropical storm watch from Bonita Beach northward to Englewood.

“It should be noted that much of the Florida peninsula is expected to be on the east side of Fred, which is where the heaviest rains and strongest winds will be,” forecaster Jack Beven wrote in his analysis on Friday.

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