July 31 (UPI) — Final preparations were being made along Florida’s Atlantic coast Saturday as the state braced for its first encounter from a hurricane this season.
Forecasters said Isaias weakened with winds dropping to 75 mph and looked ragged on satellite as the storm emerged over the Florida Straits early Saturday afternoon.
Hurricane watches and warnings remained in effect ahead of Hurricane Isaias’ expected arrival later Saturday. At 2 p.m. EDT, the National Hurricane Center said the storm was located 140 miles southeast of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The storm was expected to continue its unwelcome stay near the coast of the Sunshine State into Sunday before it tracks farther north along the East Coast.
Isaias made landfall around 11 a.m. Saturday on the northern part of Andros Island in the Bahamas, NHC reported. The storm’s maximum sustained winds had fluctuated between 80 mph and 85 mph throughout the morning, before the storm weakened a bit due to its interaction with land. Its forward speed had also slowed as it crept along at around 12 mph, down from as much as 18 mph on Friday.
The storm came within 40 miles west-southwest of Nassau, the capital city of the Bahamas Saturday, after leaving behind scenes of flooding in Puerto Rico late in the week.
The NHC said preparations to protect life and property in Florida “should be rushed to completion.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in every coastal county of Florida’s Atlantic Coast, stretching from Miami-Dade to Nassau counties, on Friday in preparation for the storm. The governor also sent a letter to President Donald Trump requesting a pre-landfall emergency declaration.
On Saturday morning, DeSantis noted on Twitter that the president had approved the request. “This will help our state respond quickly to any impacts from the storm,” he wrote.
“While current projections have the eye of Isaias remaining at sea, the situation remains fluid and can change quickly,” DeSantis said at a press conference on Friday. The Florida division for emergency management created new guidance on opening shelters amid the pandemic should they become necessary, he added. DeSantis called on Floridians to remain vigilant and heed warnings.
Florida has been experiencing a major surge in COVID-19 cases over the last month. On Friday, Florida reported a record number of COVID-19 fatalities for the fourth straight day, bringing the total death toll there since the pandemic began to nearly 7,000, data from John Hopkins University shows.
Mask-wearing customers could be seen shopping for needed groceries and other supplies ahead of the storm’s anticipated arrival.
AccuWeather national weather reporter Jonathan Petramala reported live from Cocoa Beach, Fla., on Friday and noted that sandbag locations were being opened up all across Florida’s east coast ahead of the storm’s anticipated heavy rain.
Businesses were seen boarded up as beaches were closed in West Palm Lake and Lake Worth, Fla., on Saturday, but other areas along the east coast looked like any normal day at the beach with people out and about instead of making final preparations.
Petramala talked with people in Cape Canaveral, Fla., who were enjoying the sand and surf Saturday despite the looming hurricane.
“We’re excited about it because we can be out here surfing with a swell that we don’t usually get,” Kristie Lane, a surfer, told Petramala on Saturday morning.
Florida resident, Barry Stephens, told Petramala that he plans to hunker down during the storm but that he has lived through other storms and doesn’t plan to board up windows.
“We don’t ever board up because we’re inland. And we went through Charlie and didn’t have any windows broken during that time. So we pretty much just hunker down in the house and hope all goes well,” Stephens said.
AccuWeather meteorologists say southeastern Florida will start to endure deteriorating conditions Saturday as the hurricane tracks within a couple hundred miles from the coastline.
The storm will unleash wind gusts of 40 mph to 60 mph with an AccuWeather Local StormMax of 70 mph over eastern Florida during Saturday and Sunday before it makes its way toward the Carolinas. Winds of this magnitude will be strong enough to cause localized power outages and cause some minor damage.
Rainfall amounts in the range of 2 inches to 4 inches across eastern Florida will be common although some locally higher amounts are possible.
Isaias is expected to encounter wind shear throughout Saturday. If wind shear amounts increase, the storm could have lower wind speeds as it passes Florida, forecasters say.
Farther north along the coast, the Carolinas were also bracing for the storm, which meteorologists say could make landfall near Wilmington, N.C., on Monday evening. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued a state of emergency for portions of the state on Friday and urged residents to prepare ahead of the hurricane’s approach.
Officials along the North Carolina coast weren’t taking any chances given the possibility of a strike by Isaias. Mandatory evacuations were issued Friday on Ocracoke Island, one of the places hardest hit last year by Hurricane Dorian.