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Florida avoids major damage from Tropical Storm Isaias, track headed for Carolinas

Doyle Rice
USA TODAY
  • Isaias is no longer forecast to regain hurricane strength, the National Hurricane Center said.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in every coastal county of Florida’s Atlantic Coast.
  • Meanwhile, forecasters were watching yet another system far out on the Atlantic.

Bands of rain from Isaias soaked portions of Florida’s east coast and wind gusts of more than 70 mph were reported Sunday as the powerful tropical storm swirled just offshore, strengthening a bit but presenting less of a threat than initially feared.

As of 8 p.m. EDT, Isaias had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph and was located about 55 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral, Florida. It was crawling north-northwest at 9 mph. 

Isaias is no longer forecast to regain hurricane strength, the National Hurricane Center said, meaning Florida will avoid the troubling scenario of grappling with the damage from a hurricane while in the midst of being pounded by the coronavirus pandemic.

"Thankfully #Isaias will not be a 'Covidcane' 2020 Bracing for Disaster hurricane,'' BAM Weather meteorologist Ryan Maue tweeted. "Florida dodged a bullet for sure!''

Still, Isaias is forecast to move north toward the Carolinas and potentially make landfall there Monday night, causing high winds, the National Weather Service said. "Heavy rainfall totals are expected to cause potentially life-threatening flash flooding over the Carolinas and then the mid-Atlantic Monday and Tuesday as Isaias moves north," the weather service warned.

In addition, the hurricane center said that "dangerous storm surge is possible from Edisto Beach, South Carolina, to Cape Fear, North Carolina, where water rises of 2 to 4 feet above ground level are possible along the immediate coastline and adjacent waterways."

A hurricane watch was in effect from South Santee River, South Carolina, to Surf City, North Carolina. Rain and wind from Isaias could impact the Northeast and New England by Wednesday.

Hurricane Isais approaches the east coast of Florida  Aug. 1, 2020.

The center's earlier hurricane warning along the east coast of Florida was replaced by a tropical storm warning Sunday. However, that warning has been extended northward along the southeast United States coast into North Carolina. This means tropical storm conditions can be expected within the next 36 hours. 

As it tracks north, Isaias is expected to pick up speed and lose some of its strength.

"Slow weakening is forecast after Isaias makes landfall in the Carolinas and moves across the U.S. mid-Atlantic region late Monday and Tuesday,'' the hurricane center said.

Upper-level winds took much of the strength out of Isaias, said Stacy Stewart, senior hurricane specialist at the hurricane center. The storm also slowed down considerably.

“We were expecting a hurricane to develop and it didn’t,” Stewart said Sunday. 

In addition to rain and wind, a dangerous storm surge is still possible along portions of Florida's east coast, where water inundation of 2 to 4 feet could occur.

On Friday, 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, in preparation for the storm. 

As the storm approached Florida, state authorities also closed beaches, parks and COVID-19 virus testing sites, lashing signs to palm trees so they wouldn’t blow away. The governor said the state is anticipating power outages and asked residents to have a week’s supply of water, food and medicine on hand.

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 can’t 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 due to the pandemic.

In South Carolina, forecasters said Isaias would arrive as a tropical storm, with winds battering the state Monday and into the night. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said he did not plan to call a mandatory evacuation ahead of the storm.

“We’ve been through these before, as you know, so we’re fully prepared,” McMaster said. “We’re hoping this storm will not hit us hard – if it hits at all.”

Authorities in North Carolina ordered the evacuation of Ocracoke Island, which was slammed by last year’s Hurricane Dorian, starting Saturday evening. 

Meanwhile, forecasters were watching yet another system far out on the Atlantic. Showers and thunderstorms associated with a tropical system a few hundred miles east of the Leeward Islands are organizing and have a 60% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone over the next five days.

Contributing: Jorge L. Ortiz; The Associated Press; Cheryl McCloud, Treasure Coast Newspapers; Kimberly Miller, The Palm Beach Post