While all eyes are on a depression that has Florida in the storm cone, Keys officials declared a “State of Local Emergency” Friday afternoon after Gov. Ron DeSantis included Monroe on his list of 24 counties under a state of emergency.
DeSantis’ order frees up emergency funding and resources, including National Guard troops, if needed.
“This storm has the potential to strengthen into a major hurricane and we encourage all Floridians to make their preparations. We are coordinating with all state and local government partners to track potential impacts of this storm,” DeSantis said in a statement.
Monroe’s declaration states the situation “may require expedient action in order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the community.”
County officials are scheduled to meet Saturday morning to discuss possible evacuations and sheltering for the homeless and visitors and people who live in mobile homes, boats or in low-lying areas.
“Today is a planning day, and tomorrow will be our action day,” Shannon Weiner, Director of Monroe County Emergency Management, said in a statement. “We are prepared to move forward to protect lives and property.”
The National Weather Service in Key West has a blunt message about how things may be looking:
“The current forecast implies major hurricane strength is a distinct possibility!”
The weather service said tropical storm force winds could arrive as early as Monday afternoon.
“Therefore, any preparations should be complete by midday Monday. Hurricane force winds are also possible for some portions of the Florida Keys, with the most likely time frame for the roughest weather Tuesday morning through Tuesday evening,” the weather service message said.
Forecasters said discussion on “the magnitude of specific impacts to the Florida Keys” was premature, but added people should be prepared for storm surge, “damaging and destructive winds,” flooding rainfall and the threat of tornadoes in rain bands.
Monroe County will open shelters in the event of a Category 1 or 2 hurricane. For Category 3 or higher storms, there will be a mandatory evacuation. This means that if you choose to stay, there will be no medical, fire-rescue, or law enforcement help “until storm conditions subside, roads are made passable, and equipment is operable,” the county said on its website Friday.
“Residents and visitors need to continue to monitor the storm’s progress into the weekend,” Weiner said.
Shelter options on the mainland will be announced if there is a mandatory evacuation. These may include Florida International University, the E. Darwin Fuchs Pavilion at the Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition (which allows pets) and other facilities within Miami-Dade, according to Monroe County.
Category 1 and 2 shelters in Monroe County are:
▪ Key West High School at 2100 Flagler St. Capacity 352 people.
▪ Sugarloaf School at 255 Crane Blvd., mile marker 19. Capacity is 307 people.
▪ Marathon High School at 350 Sombrero Rd. Capacity is 280 people.
▪ Coral Shores High School at 89801 Overseas Highway, mile marker 89.5. Capacity is 236 people.
The U.S. Coast Guard on Friday set “port condition Whiskey” for the port of Key West, meaning officials expect gale force winds of 25 mph and gusts up to 40 mph within the next 72 hours.
While the port and facilities are open to all commercial maritime traffic for the time being, the Coast Guard emphasizes that “there aren’t safe havens in these facilities,” and that all large oceangoing vessels should make plans to depart the port.
The Coast Guard is also urging private boaters to stay off the water as the storm approaches because its crews will be busier than usual, and needed help could be delayed.
Meanwhile, Homeland Security Task Force-Southeast units, which includes the Coast Guard, are out in force in the Caribbean and Florida Straits in an effort to deter maritime migration while the storm approaches.