ORLANDO, Fla. — Tropical Storm Isaias was expected to return to hurricane status overnight as it approached the southeastern Florida coast Saturday night, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 11 p.m. update.
Hurricane warnings remained in effect from Boca Raton in Palm Beach County to the Volusia and Flagler county lines in Central Florida. Isaias downgraded to tropical-storm strength on Saturday afternoon, after the NHC’s previous 5 p.m. forecast.
The storm is expected to skirt the coast of the coast of Brevard and Volusia counties, possibly as a Category 1 hurricane, during the day Sunday before turning to the northeast and taking aim at North Carolina’s Outer Banks by 2 a.m. Tuesday.
“Don’t be fooled,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a press conference following the 5 p.m. update. “We do think it will be upgraded to a hurricane later this evening.”
A tropical storm warning was in effect at 11 p.m. Saturday for inland Volusia, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties. Rain is expected throughout the day on Sunday, about 2 to 4 inches in some areas of Central Florida, with up to 6 inches closer to the coast.
Forecasters warned that any wobble in the path could bring strong winds into Central Florida.
Isaias’ maximum sustained winds are near 70 miles per hour — a little below hurricane strength of 74 mph. Slow weakening is predicted to begin Sunday night and continue through Monday, according to the NHC’s latest advisory. On Monday and Tuesday, the center of Isaias will move from offshore the coast of Georgia into the southern mid-Atlantic states.
A storm-surge watch was issued from the Jupiter Inlet to Ponte Vedra Beach. A tropical-storm watch was extended northward from Altamaha Sound in Georgia to South Santee River, South Carolina.
The storm’s tropical-force winds were expected to reach the southeast coast of Florida Saturday night and hurricane-force winds in the coastal warning areas overnight.
Isaias’ center was about 80 miles southeast of Fort Lauderdale at 11 p.m. After having its strength drained during a pass through the Bahamas, where dry air and wind sheer were present, Isaias was expected to draw strength upon arriving in warmer waters from the Gulf Stream near the Straits of Florida.
Communities between the Volusia-Flagler county line and Ponte Vedra Beach are also under a tropical storm warning.
“Observations from the Air Force Hurricane Hunters indicate that Isaias has not re-strengthened thus far, but there is still a small window of opportunity for it to regain hurricane intensity Sunday while passing over the Gulf Stream waters,” the NHC said in its 11 p.m. advisory.
Models show tropical-storm-force winds, which extend 115 miles away from Isaias’ core, was expected to be felt in the Florida Keys by 8 p.m. Saturday, said NHC director Ken Graham.
Tropical-storm winds range in strength between 45 and 73 mph. Graham’s message to Floridians was hopeful during a 9 a.m. Facebook video, but urged residents to take the storm seriously.
“When you have tropical-storm-force winds, it’s just too dangerous to be outside,” Graham said.
While the storm is forecast to strengthen, Isaias should weaken again upon encountering vertical wind sheer Monday evening as it moves up the Georgia coast and into the southern mid-Atlantic states where it is predicted to become an extratropical cyclone, the NHC said.
The forecast track sticks the center of the storm about 50 miles off the coast of Port St. Lucie at 2 a.m. Sunday with projected sustained winds of 75 mph and higher gusts at its closest approach to Florida.
Florida’s east coast, from Ocean Reef in Key Largo to Sebastian Inlet at the Brevard County-Indian River County border, remains under a tropical-storm watch along with Lake Okeechobee.
Hurricane Isaias snapped trees and brought down heavy sheets of rain throughout the Bahamas, which is still recovering from the devastation brought less then a year ago from Category 5 Hurricane Dorian.
So far, little damage has been reported from the archipelago nation, with nothing resembling the destruction of the 2019 September storm. The loss of power from four substations was reported in New Providence, according to the Bahamas Power and Light Company Ltd.
A time frame for power restoration hasn’t been offered. Advance teams are out in New Providence assessing the situation at this time, reports said.
Multiple Instagram users uploaded videos of gusty winds and tumultuous waves, but damage seems limited to not catastrophic outside of fallen debris, according to early reports.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hurricane hunter aircraft departed from Lakeland Linder International Airport at 4:30 a.m. to take readings of Isaias’ center as it moved toward Andros Island. The team found that Isaias’ center of circulation wasn’t tight and remained open on its west side, according to Ashley Lundry, flight director with the NOAA hurricane hunters.
“We never saw a closed eye on the aircraft tail or belly radar, only about 50%. We encountered the most turbulence on the northeast side of the storm and also flew around a good amount of convection on the east side of the storm,” Lundry said.
At Saturday news conferences, DeSantis urged preparedness and advised Floridians to have seven days’ worth of food, water and medicine on hand. The governor declared a state of emergency Friday for all of Florida’s east coast counties from Miami-Dade to Nassau ahead of Isaias’ arrival.
“The most important thing we want people to do now is stay vigilant,” DeSantis said Saturday.
The governor also announced his request for federal assistance had been approved by President Donald Trump.
“The response to Hurricane Isaias comes after five consecutive hurricane seasons in which the State has been impacted by multiple million, and in some cases, multiple billion-dollar storms, all while in the midst of the largest disaster event managed by FEMA and the State of Florida, the COVID-19 Pandemic/Public Health Emergency,” DeSantis wrote to the president.
The approval means the Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide reimbursement for expenses related to weathering the storm.
Meteorologists are monitoring Isaias as any slight western adjustment of its path could dramatically vary the storm’s impact on Sunshine State, said FOX-35 meteorologist Jayme King.
“Any westerly wobble will bring these gusts further inland,” King said. “Remain prepared.”
Although Isaias has gained strength, it faces environmental factors that should prevent it from getting stronger as it moves toward Florida, the NHC said.
“The hurricane is currently undergoing about 25 knots of westerly vertical shear, and some mid-level dry air is present west of the center. This combination should prevent any more intensification, and, while Isaias is expected to remain a hurricane as it passes near the Florida coast, at least slight weakening should occur during this time,” according to the NHC.
The Saharan dust in the area also should help reduce the intensity of the storm, FOX 35 chief meteorologist Glenn Richards said Friday. Some beach erosion along the Volusia and Brevard coasts is possible, he said.
Current projections show Isaias losing strength over the next 48 hours, and should see its maximum sustained winds fall to 75 mph. The storm is expected to be post-tropical by Wednesday as it moves up the northeast coast.
However, for this weekend the Metro Orlando area could see wind gusts of 40 mph and heavy rains with some localized flooding in low-lying areas on Sunday, according to John Pendergrast, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
The area could see 3 to 4 inches of rain with up to 5 inches along coastal areas like Brevard and Volusia counties, Pendergrast said.
What you need to know
Orange County officials said they were monitoring the storm and extended the free, self-serve sandbag handouts until Saturday, pending weather.
Orange County Fire Rescue went door-to-door Saturday morning to manufactured homes in east Orange to help residents prepare. Firefighters distributed weather radios and preparedness guides, according to a press release.
Residents should remain vigilant and be prepared, officials said.
“Even as the storm continues to track east, residents should be aware that severe weather may be in the forecast for this weekend,” a press release said.
Florida and Orange County have halted coronavirus testing in wake of the storm through at least Wednesday, though some sites may reopen before then, depending on the storm’s effect.
Isaias has been somewhat of an enigma of a storm thus far for meteorologists trying to predict its development.
Forecasters expected the ninth storm of the year to form Tuesday night, but instead saw winds rise to tropical-storm force strength without a well-defined center of circulation. The large storm, over 500 miles wide, had a broad and elongated center of circulation; without tightened organization, Isaias remained only a “potential cyclone” until late Wednesday.
Meanwhile, there are two more developing systems being monitored by the National Hurricane Center. If either one becomes a named storm, it would be Tropical Storm Josephine.
The 2020 hurricane season already has seen seven tropical storms: Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gonzalo, plus Hurricane Hanna, which hit Texas over the weekend, and now Isaias. The next named storms would be Josephine, Kyle, Laura, Marco, Nana, Omar, Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky and Wilfred.
(Orlando Sentinel staff reporters Paola Perez and Matthew J. Palm contributed to this story.)
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