Spin control: Fay was a drill

Marissa Castillo, from left, Lauren Patterson and Nicole Klin, all sophomores at Central High School, swing on the playground at Delta Woods Park in Spring Hill on Tuesday. County schools were all closed due to Tropical Storm Fay, just after the first day of school, so the girls were taking advantage of the weather.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Marissa Castillo, from left, Lauren Patterson and Nicole Klin, all sophomores at Central High School, swing on the playground at Delta Woods Park in Spring Hill on Tuesday. County schools were all closed due to Tropical Storm Fay, just after the first day of school, so the girls were taking advantage of the weather.

BROOKSVILLE — As it turns out, Tropical Storm Fay turned into a welcome disaster drill for Hernando County emergency response officials.

"I think it was a great opportunity to make sure our process was in order," said Brenda Frazier, community relations coordinator for the county. "It's good to practice every now and again."

Fay made landfall in southwest Florida early Tuesday, but didn't develop into a hurricane here, and drifted eastward, away from Hernando. The storm was, in many ways, a best-case scenario for the county: some light wind gusts, a few drops of rain, no storm surge and an opportunity for practice.

Hernando "dodged a bullet," said Nick Petro, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

County officials spent much of Monday bracing for the worst, ordering schools closed on Tuesday, setting up shelter sites, meeting every few hours to monitor the storm and readying emergency responders to work around the clock.

Forecasters had predicted wind gusts of up to 50 mph, nearly 5 inches of rain and a moderate threat of tornado activity.

But that never happened.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, wind gusts never got stronger than 25 mph and no more than a half-inch of rainfall was measured in the county. With the storm apparently on its way out of the area, all local schools and government offices were expected to be open today.

"I don't think anyone should be all that surprised," Petro said. "The track did show (Fay) moving up through the region, but you know how tropical cyclones are … the storm could trek anywhere."

Many Hernando residents stocked up on supplies, readied their homes and prepared themselves for a storm that never came. A day later, many of them were wondering what all the fuss was about.

"The weathermen love a good story," said Priscilla Piersma, who lives north of Brooksville, in the parking lot of Lowe's in Brooksville. "We weren't all that worried. But it's better to be safe than sorry."

For Amy Doers, the storm threat meant taking her three children — ages 6, 8 and 11 — on a shopping trip to Wal-Mart instead of school on Tuesday.

"They were all disappointed that there was no school," said Doers while loading up her sport utility vehicle with groceries. "Even today, they're all wondering where's the storm."

However, Hernando response emergency officials were still tracking the remnants of Fay late Tuesday afternoon. Some forecasts still showed a slight chance the storm could veer west and blow through Hernando on its way to the gulf.

"We're definitely just closely watching this thing," Frazier said. "It's not out of the state yet. And until it is, we won't relax."

Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or 754-6120.

Spin control: Fay was a drill 08/19/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 21, 2008 5:52pm]

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