Isaias weakened into a tropical storm after lashing the Bahamas, but the storm was expected to strengthen back into a hurricane Saturday night as it approaches South Florida, the National Hurricane Center said in a tweet.
The forecast track as of Saturday afternoon has Isaias’ center moving within miles of Florida’s east coast on Sunday, and moving along it as a Category 1 hurricane.
But a landfall in the state can’t yet be ruled out, said CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar.
Maximum sustained winds are now around 70 mph as the storm moves through the Florida Straits, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said. The National Weather Service said the storm was about 100 miles southeast of Fort Lauderdale and moving about 9 mph.
Dry air and wind shear helped to temporarily weaken the storm, he said, but severe impacts are likely along much of the Sunshine State’s east coast.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned residents to expect power outages, even from a tropical storm. Restoring power will take longer than usual because of Covid-19 precautions, officials have said.
“A 70 mile-an-hour wind will be enough to take down trees and limbs that obviously interact with power lines and so, that will happen, and people should be prepared for that,” DeSantis said.
As a hurricane, Isaias – pronounced (ees-ah-EE-as) – crossed over the Bahamas’ Andros Island late Saturday morning, whipping it and nearby islands with heavy rain and strong winds.
Just to the east, power outages were reported across the Bahamas’ New Providence Island, including the capital of Nassau, as the storm pushed down trees and power lines, Eyewitness News Bahamas reported.
“It’s just been a very rainy day and the winds are beginning to pick up,” one of the station’s reporters, Matthew Moxey, told CNN.
Videos posted to social media showed driving rain in the Nassau area Saturday morning. With last year’s devastating Hurricane Dorian still fresh in Bahamians’ minds, people in Nassau had lined up outside groceries and building supply stores, making final preparations, Moxey said.
A hurricane warning is in effect for northwestern Bahamas and the part of Florida from Boca Raton to the Volusia/Flagler County line. A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area.
A hurricane watch has been issued for a strip of South Florida, from just north of Miami to south of Boca Raton. Tropical storm watches and warnings were issued for other parts of coastal Florida and coastal Georgia.
Isaias is expected to drop up to 8 inches of rain in the Bahamas and up to 6 inches in southern and east-central Florida, as well as the Carolinas and the mid-Atlantic states through Tuesday. Northeastern Florida and coastal Georgia are expected to get up to 2 inches of rain this weekend, the hurricane center said.
Storm surges could combine with tides to cause coastal flooding. Water could reach up to 5 feet above ground in the Bahamas, and up to 4 feet above the ground in parts of coastal Florida, the hurricane center said.
Florida and then up the East Coast
Floridians began preparing for the storm on Friday.
West Palm Beach resident Benjamin Peterson was at Costco Friday, stocking up on essentials in preparation for the hurricane’s arrival.
“Every season you get a little bit nervous, and you always have that chance of whether or not the storm is actually going to come, and if it’s going to bring the full force with it,” Peterson told CNN affiliate WFLX at Costco Friday.
In Palm Beach County, five shelters have opened ahead of the storm, four for the general population and one for people with special needs, said Bill Johnson, the county’s director of emergency management. Anybody who exhibits coronavirus symptoms or has been exposed to a positive case will be put in an isolation area.
Volusia County, home to Daytona Beach, issued a voluntary evacuation order for the county’s barrier islands and people living in mobile homes near the coast, effective at 8 a.m. Sunday.
Further up the coast, in Indian River County, officials issued a voluntary evacuation for residents in mobile homes or low-lying areas. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will close on Sunday, according to the center.
Parts of South Florida already were getting gusts of 40 mph Saturday morning. Hurricane conditions – including winds of at least 75 mph – could reach Florida’s east coast Saturday night, forecasters said.
After battering the coasts of Florida and Georgia, the storm’s center could affect the Carolinas’ coast by early Tuesday – and current forecasts show a landfall over the coastal Carolinas is possible. A mandatory evacuation was ordered for North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island.
The storm then could move along the coasts of the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states from Tuesday into Wednesday.
The governors of Florida, North Carolina and Virginia have declared states of emergency, allowing officials to move resources and equipment for recovery.
A storm threat during a pandemic
Florida closed some state-supported Covid-19 drive-through and walk-up testing sites on Thursday in anticipation of the storm.
Testing is shut down in Miami and will likely stay that way until Tuesday or Wednesday, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez told CNN Friday.
“That’s going to be a gap in information for four or five days,” Suarez said.
In Palm Beach County, Mayor Dave Kerner said a zone that primarily has mobile homes will be evacuated. The county will open six shelters Saturday morning at area schools and a recreation center, Kerner said.
Kerner said the shelters would feature coronavirus precautions. Those taking shelter will have their temperatures checked, and will be divided into family units. Masks will be provided as needed and law enforcement will help enforce social distancing, he said.
Thousands of kits with personal protective equipment are being sent to shelters in counties that are in the storm’s path, DeSantis said Saturday.
Power outages could last longer than usual because of the pandemic, Florida Power & Light spokesman Bryan Garner said.
That’s partly because restoration teams are taking time and space for health precautions, he said. They’re social distancing, working in small groups, sanitizing equipment and going through temperature checks and health screenings, Garner said.
“It may reduce productivity and result in longer restoration times,” Garner said.
In the Bahamas, authorities announced that shelters have been set up across the country, with at least 10 shelters with supplies ready in New Providence. The Bahamas Defense Force and personnel from the health ministry have also been activated.
The storm is the Atlantic’s earliest on record to begin with an “I.” The previous record was set on August 7, 2005, part of the busiest hurricane season to date.
CNN’s Rosa Flores, Randi Kaye, Brandon Miller, Artemis Moshtaghian, Sugam Pokharel, Hollie Silverman, Sara Weisfeldt and David Williams contributed to this report.