Tropical Storm Isaias has strengthened into a hurricane and is forecast to edge close to South Florida by the weekend.
The storm upgraded late Thursday, just before midnight, with reported winds of 80mph, according to Hurricane Hunters, with the possibility of worsening as it swirls north.
Isaias, which upgraded from a tropical storm sooner than anticipated, is now a Category 1 hurricane centered about 70 miles east-southeast of Great Inagua Island in the southeastern Bahamas moving at 18 mph.
Tropical storm watches are in effect for parts of the Florida Peninsula, including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. A watch means tropical storm conditions are possible on Saturday into the evening.
The storm’s center is inching away from Florida and is now forecast to be over 60 miles to the east of Cape Canaveral when it reaches the state.
Meanwhile hurricane warnings have been issued in the Bahamas including Nassau, Freeport, and the Abacos Islands with hurricane conditions anticipated Friday into Saturday.
At the moment the storm’s cone of uncertainty will see it brush Florida and continue on towards Connecticut and possibly New York. It’ll likely reduce to a Tropical Storm again by the time it rises up the Eastern Seaboard.
Current storm predictions show Isaias passing just off New York’s coast on Tuesday, though the path could change, forecasters say.
‘There is a risk of impacts from winds, heavy rainfall, and storm surge along portions of the U.S. East Coast beginning this weekend in Florida and spreading northward to the Carolinas and southern mid-Atlantic states early next week,’ the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.
On Thursday evening Isaias unleashed strong winds and bands of rain into the southeast Bahamas. Wind gusts over 50 mph have been measured in the Turks and Caicos late Thursday night, according to Weather.com.
A deluge of rain continues to drench parts of Hispaniola, especially over the Dominican Republic.
The storm unleashed small landslides and caused widespread flooding and power outages on Puerto Rico, still recovering from previous hurricanes and earthquakes, the the Dominican Republic over the course of the day Thursday.
Now the Bahamas is bracing for the storm.
‘These are especially difficult days,’ Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told reporters Thursday. ‘We need at this time the spirit of love and unity.’
The storm’s approach led Florida to close state-supported COVID-19 testing sites on Thursday at 5pm local time ‘to keep indiviudals operating and attending the sites safe.’
The testing sites will remain closed until it is safe to reopen though officials anticipate all sites to be back open and running by August 5 at 8am at the latest.
The threat of the hurricane only complicates the coronavirus crisis crippling Florida with its recent rise in infections.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said to CNN Thursday he’s concerned about evacuating locals which could further spread the virus.
‘Look, if we have a major hurricane here, then we’re going to have to evacuate a number of people and then we’re going to have to … try to keep them separated as much as possible. That’s a concern,’ he said.
‘When you’re not testing is also a concern. But the greater danger, the immediate danger has to be taken care of first, and that’s getting our people out of harm’s way.’
On Thursday Floridians headed to local grocery stores in hordes, emptying shelves as they stocked up on food and water preparing to bunker down for the storm.
Isaias is the second hurricane of 2020.
Breaking – #Isaias has been upgraded to a category 1 hurricane earlier than forecasted. Maximum sustained winds are 80 mph. Further strengthening is possible. pic.twitter.com/Wwpliy3BMk
However the path of the volatile storm remains uncertain as some forecast models show a weak storm hitting the southern coast of Florida and others show it hitting the east side of the state, moving towards the Carolinas.
How the storm interacts with Hispaniola – the Dominican Republic and Haiti – will determine its intensities as it moves over mountains that could tear it apart.
‘We should have a better idea of how strong Isaias will become near the US after reconnaissance aircraft sample the storm and after it passes Hispaniola later today,’ the NHC said Thursday afternoon.
In Puerto Rico Tropical Storm Isaias also toppled trees and some telephone and electrical cables across Puerto Rico.
Especially hard hit was the territory’s southern region, which still shakes daily. Santos Seda, mayor of the southwest coastal town of Guánica, told The Associated Press that he has received reports of downed trees and inundated neighborhoods where earthquake-damaged homes still stand.
The storm left some 400,000 electricity clients without power across Puerto Rico, including hospitals that switched to generators, and left some 150,000 customers without water, according to government officials.
‘The emotional state of people is deteriorating more every day,’ he said.
Meanwhile, crews opened the gates of one dam that last month had such a low water level it led officials to cut service every other day for some 140,000 customers. Outages also were reported in the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands.
Minor damage was reported elsewhere across Puerto Rico, where tens of thousands of people still use tarps as roofs over homes damaged by Hurricane Maria in September 2017.
José Pagán, a 22-year-old who lives in the eastern mountain town of Juncos, said his power went out before dawn.
‘I didn’t think it was going to be this strong,’ he said of the storm, adding that his home is slightly flooded. ‘It’s a rather difficult experience because it reminds us of Maria.’
More than 50 people sought shelter in Puerto Rico, said Gov. Wanda Vázquez, who urged those living near swollen rivers to find refuge and said officials rescued at least one family from rising waters. Many remained wary of shelters, however, given a spike in COVID-19 cases on the island.
In the western town of Mayaguez, Alan Rivera, a 40-year-old engineer, said the street in front of his house turned into a flowing river — something that didn’t even happen during Hurricane Maria. He and his family planned to temporarily move in with his parents despite concerns about the coronavirus.
‘We have to take the risk,’ he said. ‘There’s no other alternative.’
U.S. President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration in Puerto Rico as a result of the storm.
Thursday afternoon the storm was located about 85 miles southeast of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic early Thursday afternoon, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
It was moving northwest at 20 mph and its center was forecast to move near the southeastern Bahamas by early Friday.
Isaias was already toppling trees in the Dominican Republic as government workers in some impoverished neighborhoods used loudspeakers to urge people to evacuate ahead of the worst of the storm. Police also arrested a handful of surfers in the capital of Santo Domingo accused of violating government storm warnings.
Tropical storm warnings were issued for the Turks and Caicos Islands and portions of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Bahamas.
Isaias was expected to produce 4 to 8 inches of rain across Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and northern Haiti, with isolated maximum totals of 10 inches.