Bands of heavy rain from Tropical Storm Isaias have lashed Florida’s east coast while officials dealing with surging cases of coronavirus kept a close watch on the weakened front.
Isaias was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm on Saturday afternoon, but was still expected to bring heavy rain and flooding as it crawled just off Florida’s Atlantic coast.
“Don’t be fooled by the downgrade,” Florida governor Ron DeSantis warned at a news conference after the storm spent hours roughing up the Bahamas.
Upper-level winds took much of the strength out of Isaias, said Stacy Stewart, senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Centre in Miami. The storm also slowed down considerably.
Here are the 11 AM Sunday, August 2 Key Messages for Tropical Storm #Isaias. For more information, visit https://t.co/tW4KeFW0gB, and visit https://t.co/SiZo8ohZMN for your local forecast. pic.twitter.com/yX4qfoDhE8
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) August 2, 2020
“We were expecting a hurricane to develop and it didn’t,” Mr Stewart said. “It’s a tale of two storms. If you live on the west side of the storm, you didn’t get much. If you live east of the storm, there’s a lot of nasty weather there.”
Florida is on the west side of Isaias.
Authorities closed beaches, parks and virus testing sites. Mr DeSantis said the state is anticipating power outages and asked residents to have a week’s supply of water, food and medicine on hand.
Officials wrestled with how to prepare shelters where people can seek refuge from the storm if necessary, while also social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.
Isaias put another burden on communities already hit by other storms and sickness.
In Palm Beach County, about 150 people were in shelters, said emergency management spokeswoman Lisa De La Rionda. The county has a voluntary evacuation order for those living in mobile or manufactured homes, or those who feel their home cannot withstand winds.
“We don’t anticipate many more evacuations,” she said, adding that the evacuees are physically distant from each other and are wearing masks.
In Indian River County, north of West Palm Beach, emergency shelters were clearing out on Sunday after Isaias was downgraded to a tropical storm.
Officials told TCPalm newspapers that 38 people registered at three schools used as shelters. Those areas now must be cleaned to ensure no traces of coronavirus remain as teachers and staff report on Monday to prepare for the upcoming school year.
No one checked in with Covid-19 symptoms. Temperature checks were done at the door, officials said, and isolation rooms were designated in case anyone came in with symptoms.
The storm’s maximum sustained winds declined steadily throughout Saturday, and were at 65mph at 11am local time on Sunday, the US National Hurricane Centre said. The storm’s centre was east-south-east of Fort Pierce, Florida.
The centre of the storm was forecast to travel near the state’s eastern coast throughout the day, and fluctuations in strength are possible into Tuesday, forecasters said.
Heavy rain, flooding and high winds could batter much of the East Coast this week as the system is forecast to track up or just off the Atlantic seaboard.