Hurricane Isaias’ potential path shifted west again Friday evening, upping the chances of a landfall along the southeast coast of Florida — possibly as a tropical storm — on Sunday.
Though the shifting track raised the risk of stronger winds lashing South Florida, as of Friday evening the threat was not severe enough for emergency managers to trigger calls to open shelters or evacuate vulnerable coastal areas in Miami-Dade, Broward or Palm Beach counties.
The South Florida Water Management District, which oversees flood control in 16 counties, said it was lowering canals and making other preparations to handle the predicted four to six inches of rain Isaias is expected to dump on the region.
The 5 a.m.. update from the National Hurricane Center said strong winds and heavy rains continue over the central Bahamas as the storm approaches Andros Island. Isaias was about 80 miles south of Nassau and was packing 85 mph winds.
The center of Isaias is expected to move near or over the northwestern Bahamas later Saturday and should approach the southeast coast of Florida Saturday night through Sunday.
The forecast shows Isaias is slower moving and better organized, despite its struggle against higher wind shear, as it passed through the warm waters of the central Bahamas. Isaias could see some strengthening on Saturday, but then may gradually weaken as it moves farther north, forecasters said.
That projection showed Isaias potentially scraping the beaches of Palm Beach County around 2 a.m. Sunday . Another shift west or even a wobble as it approaches could expose communities to the stronger winds around Isaias’ core.
As of Saturday morning, Boca Raton to the Volusia/Flagler County line were under a hurricane warning, which means hurricane-force winds were expected in the next 36 hours. A hurricane watch, which means hurricane conditions are possible in the next 48 hours, was issued from Hallandale Beach to just south of Boca Raton.
Southeast Florida from Ocean Reef north to Boca Raton and Lake Okeechobee remained under a tropical storm warning.
The Bahamas was also bracing for impacts, particularly on Grand Bahama, one of the islands hit hard last year by Cat 5 Hurricane Dorian. Forecasters were predicting 80 mph winds there but were evacuating residents from Sweetings Cay, swamped by Dorian, as a precaution.
After a day of flooding in downtown Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands and other low-lying areas in the Southern Bahamas, initial damage reports were good. Capt. Stephen Russell, the director of the National Emergency Management Agency, said he had been in contact with the local administrators on the islands of Inagua and Mayaguana following Isaias’ passing and “it seems as if they both have fared very well.”
On the plus side for Florida, forecasters were not expecting Isaias to dramatically intensify and predicted it could potentially weaken as it rides Florida’s coast Sunday, before eventually downgrading to a tropical storm early Monday as it crossed the border to Georgia.
Models and meteorologists pointed to wind shear and an approaching trough of air from the west as factors that could send Isaias’ path wobbling toward or away from Florida. The general consensus was that a more organized storm would stay east, toward the Bahamas, and a weaker, more ragged storm could stray west, toward Florida.
“The more it struggles, the greater chance of a Florida landfall,” tweeted Levi Cowan, a meteorologist at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. “Be prepared for possible tropical storm impacts there.”
According to the National Weather Service’s Friday afternoon predictions, the strongest winds in Florida could be felt from Fort Lauderdale to Port Orange, where there’s potential for hurricane-force winds from 74 mph to 110 mph.
The weather service predicted slightly weaker conditions from South Miami to Ormond Beach, with a potential for 58 mph to 73 mph winds. Homestead and Kendall are predicted to see winds from 39 mph to 57 mph.
The hurricane center predicted at 8 p.m. that Miami has about a 39 percent chance of seeing tropical-storm-force winds and a 2 percent chance of seeing hurricane-force winds on Sunday. That chance goes up farther up the coast, to a 69 percent chance of tropical-storm-force winds in Fort Lauderdale and 76 percent for West Palm Beach. Chances of hurricane-force winds remain low along the coast, with the highest chance — 9 percent — in West Palm Beach.
All of those numbers edged up throughout Friday as newer forecasts showed Isaias’ path closer to Florida.
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The hurricane center said Friday afternoon that North Miami Beach to Jupiter Inlet could see one to three feet of storm surge, while Jupiter Inlet north to Ponte Vedra Beach could see two to four feet. South Florida to east Central Florida could see two to four inches of rain, with six inches in some spots.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez told reporters Friday morning the county had 20 shelters on standby but didn’t plan to open any, so far avoiding a test of the county’s planned provisions to enforce social distancing and screen for the coronavirus at shelters. Transit hours remained unchanged since forecasts didn’t call for the sustained tropical-storm-force winds that require buses to stay in garages and Metrorail to halt service.
The county announced Thursday that all facilities operated by the Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department, including beaches and parks, would close by 8 p.m. Friday in preparation for the storm. State-supported COVID-19 testing sites across Florida will also be closed at least until Tuesday morning due to the storm.
Speaking online with a face mask at the county’s Emergency Operations center in Doral shortly before 10 a.m., Gimenez said this would likely be his last Isaias press conference until Saturday, given the current forecast.
“If that changes, we’ll be back on the air,” he said.
COVID promises a far more complicated storm threat, no matter the Isaias track. An emergency order issued by Gimenez on July 9 bans indoor dining at restaurants Gimenez advised restaurants Friday to consider dismantling the tents and temporary patios providing their only table offerings for the weekend.
“I would start to move a lot of that equipment indoors before the onset of tropical-force winds,” he said.
People with COVID are still welcome at county schools used as shelters should they open. Gimenez said people diagnosed with COVID will be isolated in classrooms, which are usually off-limits at shelters. Meals also won’t be served at cafeterias, another big COVID change in the county’s shelter plans He also urged everyone to wear masks indoors when friends or family from other households arrive to ride out a storm.
Isaias also is disrupting county efforts to slow the COVID spread. Miami-Dade joined Florida in shutting down testing sites Friday as Isaias threatened. They will remain closed through the weekend, but could open as soon as Monday, Deputy Mayor Maurice Kemp said. Gimenez said the shutdown of testing hurts anti-COVID efforts, but the outdoor facilities need time to shut down well ahead of a storm’s threat.
“There will be thousands of tests that won’t be conducted until we get these sites up and running again,” Gimenez said. “Is there a concern? Yes.”
Friday afternoon, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered a state of emergency for the Florida counties covered by storm watches and warnings, including Brevard, Broward, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Indian River, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Nassau, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns, St. Lucie and Volusia.