VERO BEACH, Fla. – Bands of heavy rain from Isaias lashed Florida's east coast Sunday while officials dealing with surging cases of the coronavirus kept a close watch on the weakened tropical storm.
Isaias was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm Saturday afternoon, but was still threatening to bring heavy rain and flooding as it crawled just off Florida's Atlantic coast.
“Don't be fooled by the downgrade,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned at a news conference after the storm — pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs — spent hours roughing up the Bahamas.
“It’s looking more like Isaias will remain offshore with most of the bad weather along the coast,” said Bulloch County emergency Management Director Ted Wynn.
“The center of Tropical Storm Isaias is just off the coast of Southeast Florida and has maximum sustained winds of 65 mph,” said Georgia State Meteorologist Will Lanxton. “It did not show any signs of re-organizing overnight, and therefore it appears that the window of opportunity for it to re-strengthen is closing. The National Hurricane Center intensity forecast shows little change in strength today and tomorrow. Isaias is expected to closely approach and impact the Georgia coast on Monday. However, the probability of tropical storm force winds along the Georgia coast remains approximately 10-30%.”
“A Tropical Storm Warning has been issued for the entire Georgia coast,” Lanxton said. “The lopsided nature of the storm will keep the brunt of the impacts offshore, but minor to moderate impacts are possible along the immediate Georgia coast. The weaker/more inland scenario described yesterday is what has occurred. Therefore the center of Isaias will move closer to the Georgia coast tomorrow, but as a much weaker system than previously forecast. This will not change the expected impacts very much, but it does decrease the likelihood of a worst-case scenario.”
Upper-level winds took much of the strength out of Isaias, said Stacy Stewart, senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The storm also slowed down considerably.
“We were expecting a hurricane to develop and it didn't,” Stewart said Sunday. “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, lashing signs to palm trees so they wouldn't blow away. 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 safely social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.
Isaias put another burden on communities already hit by other storms and sickness.
In Indian River County, north of West Palm Beach, Florida, emergency shelters were clearing out 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 the coronavirus remain as teachers and staff report 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 65 mph (100 kph) at 2 p.m. EDT Sunday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. The storm's center was located about 45 miles (75 kilometers) east-southeast of Vero Beach, Florida.
The center 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.
A tropical storm warning was in effect from Hallandale Beach, Florida, to South Santee River, South Carolina, and for Florida's Lake Okeechobee. A storm surge watch is in effect for Jupiter Inlet to Ponte Vedra Beach, and from Edisto Beach, South Carolina, to Cape Fear, North Carolina.