August 10, 2020
Florida braces for impact as Hurricane Isaias bears down
Government officials and residents in Florida are in full preparation mode on as Hurricane Isaias pounds the Bahamas with strong winds and heavy rains, and moves closer to the U.S. mainland. Isaias is packing 75-mph winds.

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. Meanwhile, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued a hurricane warning for portions of Florida's Atlantic coast.

Residents in Florida are bracing for impact and stocking up on essentials ahead of Isaia's potential arrival, all while wearing masks, a sign of the confluence of hurricane season with a global pandemic.

Isaias rapidly strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane Thursday night, shortly after pulling away from Hispaniola. AccuWeather forecasters expect it to make a run along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States this weekend into early next week and could result in a multi-billion-dollar disaster.

Hurricane warnings are in effect for the Bahamas, including hard-hit areas from Dorian in 2019 like the Abaco Islands, although meteorologists expect the impacts to pale in comparison to the monster storm that stalled for 24 hours and caused utter devastation there last year.

AccuWeather estimates the total damage and economic loss caused by Isaias will be $3 billion and could be as much as $5 billion should it reach category 2 status on the Saffir-Simpson scale before approaching the east coast of Florida, according to AccuWeather founder and CEO Joel N. Myers. The estimate is based on an analysis incorporating independent methods to evaluate all direct and indirect impacts of the storm and is based on a variety of sources, statistics and unique techniques AccuWeather uses to estimate damage.

AccuWeather’s estimate includes damage to homes and businesses as well as their contents and cars, job and wage losses, infrastructure damage, auxiliary business losses, medical expenses and school closures. The estimates also account for the costs of power outages to businesses and individuals and for economic losses because of highway closures and evacuations, as well as extraordinary government expenses for cleanup operations.

Isaias's recent strengthening will help the hurricane forge a track more to the north. And the system could potentially strengthen even more over the very warm waters of the Gulf Stream, especially since Isaias is now expected to avoid the large land mass of Cuba this weekend. While a track up part of the Florida Peninsula is still possible, forecasters have ruled out a track toward the Gulf of Mexico with these developments.

Conditions will deteriorate rapidly from south to north over the Bahamas and the eastern part of the Florida Peninsula this weekend as Isaias takes a northwestward, then northward path over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. How far west versus east Isaias tracks and exactly how strong and large the eye wall becomes will determine the severity of conditions in the Bahamas and along the Florida Atlantic coast.

Isaias was churning less than 195 miles southeast of Nassau, Bahamas, and moving northwest at 15 mph on Friday afternoon.

AccuWeather meteorologists expect Isaias to fluctuate in strength through this weekend with intensity ranging from a Category 1 hurricane to a tropical storm and perhaps a Category 2 hurricane for a time. A Category 1 hurricane has winds ranging from 74 to 95 mph, while a Category 2 hurricane has winds of 96 to 110 mph. A tropical storm has winds of 39 to 73 mph.

Isaias will be moving over water that is very warm this weekend, with temperatures ranging from 84 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, which is more than sufficient to allow for abrupt strengthening. However, wind shear may factor into the storm's future into this weekend and beyond.

Wind shear is the increase in wind speed or direction with altitude or across a horizontal distance. When wind shear is strong, hurricanes and tropical storms can weaken and potential tropical systems may fail to develop. Since wind shear is almost never in a constant state, it can lead to fluctuations in strength, structure and forward speed of tropical storms and hurricanes as they move along.

"The forward speed of Isaias will also fluctuate, meaning that Isaias's speed can slow down a bit for a time," Miller added.

However, this will not evolve into another situation like Hurricane Dorian from 2019, which stalled over the Bahamas for days. Isaias will keep moving, and it is not expected to be nearly as strong as Dorian. Impact on Florida and the Bahamas may be similar to or perhaps not as severe as that of Matthew from September 2016, provided the eyewall of the storm does not reach much of Florida's east coast.

Rainfall and tropical-storm-force winds will continue to advance northward through the Bahamas into Saturday night and are projected to reach southeastern Florida, including Miami, late Friday night to early Saturday morning and then spread northward over the eastern half of the Florida Peninsula this weekend. Seas and coastal water levels will also build in advance of the storm by roughly 24 hours. People along the coast can expect a quickening breeze and increasing surf and rip currents in advance of the storm as well.

"Widespread rainfall amounts of 2-4 inches can be expected over the Bahamas and the eastern part of the Florida Peninsula, with totals of 4-8 inches with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 10 inches over the western Bahamas," Miller said.

The fast-forward motion of Isaias should limit the overall amount of rain, but there can still be incidents of urban flooding in the Bahamas and from Florida to the Carolinas. But, a track farther to the east would bring less rain to the U.S. and more rain to the Bahamas, for example.

“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 Isaias 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 officials have been urging residents to prepare for days, especially as the state responds to another disaster: the coronavirus pandemic. The state has been experiencing a tremendous 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, bring the total death toll there since the pandemic began to nearly 7,000, data from John Hopkins University shows.

"Wind gusts of 60-70 mph can occur over the Bahamas and eastern Florida through the weekend, with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ wind gust of 80 mph possible in eastern Florida and 100 mph expected in the western parts of the Bahamas," Miller said.

In the Bahamas, damage to some trees, poorly constructed buildings and temporary structures should be anticipated. Power outages may result, and disruption of electricity may last several days in more remote areas.

A storm surge of 3-6 feet is forecast in the northwestern Bahamas with 1-3 feet likely along much of the Florida east coast and along the shoreline of Georgia and South Carolina. Depending on the track of Isaias, which may include a landfall, a storm surge of 3-6 feet is possible in parts of eastern North Carolina and perhaps southeastern Virginia. (Source: AccuWeather)
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