ORLANDO, Fla. — As chances continued to increase that a system heading toward the Gulf of Mexico will form into a tropical depression or storm and threaten Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Saturday declared a state of emergency in 33 counties, including the Gulf Coast.
Currently moving over the northwestern Caribbean and eastern Gulf, the NHC said the area of low pressure with shower and thunderstorm activity has continued to show signs of organization on Saturday.
“If this trend continues, advisories will be initiated on this system later today,” forecasters said in a 2 p.m. update. “The system is expected to move very slowly northward into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico during the next couple of days. Heavy rains are likely over portions of western Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Interests in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, western Cuba, and Florida should monitor the progress of this system.”
“Environmental conditions appear conducive for further development of this system during the next several days, and a tropical depression is likely to form late this weekend or early next week while it moves generally northward over the eastern Gulf of Mexico,” forecasters said.
The forecast path has it curling north toward Florida’s Gulf Coast by Tuesday or Wednesday.
The NHC gives it a 90% chance to form in the next two days, up from 70% in a Saturday morning update.
If it spins up into named-storm status, it could become Tropical Storm Idalia.
“I signed an Executive Order issuing a state of emergency out of an abundance of caution to ensure that the Florida Division of Emergency Management can begin staging resources and Floridians have plenty of time to prepare their families for a storm next week,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a statement. “I encourage Floridians to have a plan in place and ensure that their hurricane supply kit is stocked.”
DeSantis, who made the announcement while campaigning in Iowa on Saturday, noted the Gulf Coast is still recovering after being devastated by Hurricane Ian last year.
The governor’s executive order covers the following counties: Alachua, Bay, Calhoun, Charlotte, Citrus, Columbia, DeSoto, Dixie, Franklin, Gadsden, Gilchrist, Gulf, Hamilton, Hardee, Hernando, Hillsborough, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lee, Leon, Levy, Liberty, Madison, Manatee, Marion, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota, Sumter, Suwannee, Taylor and Wakulla.
Attorney General Moody also announced the activation of Florida’s Price Gouging Hotline. During a state of emergency due to a storm, Florida law bans excessive increases of essentials like equipment, food, gas, hotel rooms, ice, lumber and water.
“I have activated our Price Gouging Hotline to take complaints about extreme price increases on commodities needed to prepare for a potential storm strike,” Moody said. “Please make preparation now, pay attention to weather updates and report price gouging to my office by calling 1(866) 9NO-SCAM, visiting MyFloridaLegal.com, or downloading our app—No Scam.”
Meanwhile, some local governments announced sandbag distribution events for residents to stock up early.
The City of Altamonte Springs said it will provide sand and bags on from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday and Monday at Eastmonte Park, 830 Magnolia Drive, and Westmonte Recreation Center, 624 Bills Lane. Each household is limited to 15 bags.
Oviedo plans to open a sandbag distribution site at its Public Works Facility, 1655 Evans Street, starting 7 a.m. Monday.
Meanwhile, in an 11 a.m. Saturday update the NHC said that Tropical Storm Franklin had strengthened into a hurricane. Franklin is the lone remaining named storm from a 48-hour spree of tropical storms that popped up earlier this week.
Franklin was 3,115 miles east-northeast of Grand Turk Island and 620 miles south of Bermuda moving north-northwest at 7 mph with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 10 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extended up to 140 miles.
“Steady strengthening is forecast, and Franklin could become a major hurricane early next week,” the NHC said.
Its path, though, keeps it clear of land.
Franklin is only the second hurricane of the season, which has so far produced eight named storms.