TALLAHASSEE --- Gov. Ron DeSantis is cautioning Floridians to remain on guard after Isaias was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm Saturday afternoon.
A National Hurricane Center advisory has predicted that the storm could re-strengthen into a hurricane while traveling over warm waters as it approaches Florida’s Southeastern shoreline on Sunday.
“Don't be fooled by the downgrade,” DeSantis told reporters during a Saturday afternoon press conference at the state Emergency Operations Center. “We do think it will be upgraded back to a hurricane later on this evening.”
A 5 p.m. advisory issued Saturday by weather officials showed that the storm has become more tightly packed and, according to “some of the more reliable models,” is expected to make landfall along the east-central coast of Florida Sunday afternoon.
A hurricane warning is in place from Boca Raton to the Volusia-Flagler County Line, while storm surges of two- to four-feet are possible from Jupiter Inlet to Ponte Vedra Beach.
Tropical-storm winds are expected Saturday and hurricane conditions are expected to reach Florida on Sunday and spread northward throughout the day.
The storm weakened after passing over Andros Island in the Bahamas earlier Saturday, but at 5 p.m. still had winds of up to 70 mph while traveling northwest, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy Florida have advised customers to expect Isaias to cause some power outages. FPL has about 10,000 workers in staging areas along the coast, officials said.
DeSantis said he lifted weight restrictions on Friday for fuel trucks operating on Florida roads and, as of Saturday evening, there were no reports of fuel shortages.
The governor on Friday declared a state of emergency for counties along the east coast, and 16 counties --- Palm Beach, Monroe, Volusia, Osceola, Seminole, Brevard, Indian River, Martin, St. Lucie, Broward, Nassau, St. Johns, Orange, Okeechobee, Glades and Flagler --- have issued their own local states of emergency.
No mandatory evacuations had been ordered as Isaias churned off Florida’s Atlantic coast on Saturday.
Due to social-distancing measures recommended in response to the coronavirus pandemic, DeSantis said officials may refrain from ordering evacuations unless absolutely necessary.
“In the era of COVID, I think our guidance from the state has been, look, if it's a close call, err on the side of people just hunkering down, rather than sending people on the road,” he said at the Saturday evening briefing. “But obviously, if there does come a point, if you're in an area and the storm is threatening and that decision is made, we ask you to follow it.”
Palm Beach County officials opened five shelters on Saturday, and issued voluntary evacuation orders in certain areas for individuals in mobile homes and flood zones.
“This will be a very close call for Palm Beach County,” Bill Johnson, the county’s emergency management director, said at a 4 p.m. briefing Saturday. “Because of COVID-19, we continue to feel that you are safer at home.”
Johnson said there were 150 people, who are required to wear face coverings, at the county shelters Saturday afternoon. A pet-friendly shelter had 15 dogs, 8 cats and one bird, he said.
The county is under a hurricane warning, a tropical storm warning, a coastal flood advisory and a high surface-wind advisory.
Meanwhile, as with other South Florida counties, Palm Beach County remains a hot spot for the coronavirus, reporting 580 new cases on Saturday.
Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner acknowledged the difficulty of facing the threat from Isaias at the same time as coping with the pandemic.
“I know it's a lot to contend with as a community,” Kerner told reporters during Saturday afternoon’s briefing at the county Emergency Operations Center. “But we cannot let our foot off the gas in terms of our response and our diligence in social distancing and making sure that we remain safe and do not transmit COVID-19.”
Officials in Miami-Dade County said 20 shelters are ready to open following FEMA guidelines for coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Martin County announced Saturday afternoon that shelters were not scheduled to open and no evacuations were planned.
The storm forced Space X and NASA to move a planned Sunday afternoon splashdown of Crew Dragon astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken to four potential landing sites off Florida’s west coast in the Gulf of Mexico, rather than east of Jacksonville in the Atlantic Ocean.
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