Bahamas and Florida brace for heavy rain as Hurricane Isaias barrels through the Atlantic

Posted August 1, 2020 9:00 a.m. EDT
Updated August 1, 2020 9:17 a.m. EDT

Like many in southeastern Florida this weekend, West Palm Beach resident Benjamin Peterson was at Costco Friday stocking up on essentials in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Isaias.

The storm is the Atlantic's earliest storm on record to begin with an "I." As of 8 a.m. ET Saturday, Isaias' center was near the Bahamas' Andros Island, and was about 50 miles south of the Bahamas' capital, Nassau, moving northwest, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The Category 1 hurricane has sustained winds of 85 mph and is expected to move near or over the Bahamas' Andros Island Saturday morning and near or over the rest of the northwestern Bahamas later in the day. Isaias is then expected to move near Florida's east coast Saturday night through Sunday, the NHC said.

On Thursday, Isaias' exterior slammed Puerto Rico before it went over the Dominican Republic, all as a tropical storm.

"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-TV at Costco Friday.

Hurricane Isaias is projected to landfall Tuesday morning in the Carolinas

A hurricane warning is in effect for northwestern Bahamas as well for parts 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.

Isaias is expected to produce 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, NHC 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, NHC said.

Florida, and then up the East Coast

The current forecast track predicts Isaias' center will move along Florida's east coast, still as a Category 1 hurricane. But a landfall in the state can't yet be ruled out, CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar said.

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, NHC 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.

The storm then could move along the coasts of the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states from Tuesday into Wednesday.

Despite not knowing the exact path of the storm, states are preparing. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam both declared a state of emergency Friday.

A storm threat during a pandemic

The storm comes at a sensitive time during the coronavirus pandemic. On Friday, Florida marked the fourth consecutive day it reported a record number of Covid-19 deaths in the state at 257.

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.

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 Bahamas is dealing with a second wave of coronavirus cases. The country's health minister, Renward Wells, said Friday that initial confirmed cases of the second wave were connected to "individuals from Grand Bahamas who traveled from the United States."

Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis on Thursday announced the easing of a coronavirus lockdown for citizens to better prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Isaias. Hardware stores, pharmacies and supermarkets would be allowed to open.

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