Tropical Storm Isaias has arrived.
Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine finally powered up into a named tropical storm as expected, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 11 p.m. Wednesday advisory. The storm is still headed toward Florida and the entire peninsula remains within the cone of uncertainty.
But the latest storm track has Isaias suddenly veering east away from Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico and instead aiming toward South Florida.
Spectrum Bay News 9 Meteorologist Brian McClure says that’s deceptive. What matters is the cone and that it still covers Florida. It’s hard to project the path of tropical storms soon after they form.
“I have a feeling it could wobble around here for the next couple of days before it gets a good heading,” McClure said.
Isaias was generating sustained winds of nearly 50 mph, according to the hurricane center. It was located 155 miles south of Ponce, Puerto Rico and moving west-northwest at nearly 20 mph. Tropical-storm-force winds are now being generated up to 345 miles from the center, mainly to the northeast.
The storm is now passing west of Puerto Rico, but on a direct course for the Dominican Republic and northern Haiti. Those areas are all under Tropical Storm warnings and will soon experience heavy rains and strong winds.
The latest storm track has Isaias’ center moving over Hispaniola on Thursday and approaching the Southeastern Bahamas early Friday.
If Isaias — pronounced “ees-ah-EE-ahs” — reaches the state, it would be the first named storm of the 2020 Atlantic season to make landfall in Florida. It would also come ashore during a historic pandemic.
The state was already preparing Wednesday for Isaias. All state-run COVID-19 testing sites were ordered closed Friday through Tuesday by the Florida Division of Emergency Management, according to WCTV-TV. Those sites should reopen in the middle of next week, the state said, “pending any damage and vendor timelines.”
One important factor to consider, McClure said, is the land masses that Isaias has to pass over as it moves through the Caribbean Sea, such as Hispaniola and especially eastern Cuba.
“Anytime these small, weak tropical storms interact with those land masses they don’t do well,” he said. “We’re not sure how it will handle it that. It could stay weak, or weaken more by the time it gets to the north side of those islands (by Friday.)
Under the current forecast, the storm will approach Florida on Saturday and reach the West Palm Beach area that night. By Sunday night it would be back in the water, just off the coast of Jacksonville.
It’s also too early to tell if the approaching tropical storm guarantees a rainy weekend in Tampa Bay. When tropical storms pass east of the bay area, McClure said, that usually results in dry weather for the west coast of Florida.
Thursday will be an important day in figuring out the future path and intensity of the storm, and which Florida coast it’s actually leaning toward.
There’s even the possibility that it keeps turning east into the Atlantic Ocean, strengthening while at the same time missing Florida. But then it could threaten the Carolinas.
“I want to give it another 24 hours before I’m confident,” McClure said.
The 2020 hurricane season was predicted to be an active one and so far it’s living up to that forecast. Isaias is the fifth named storm to form in July. That ties a 2005 record, which is the last time five named storms formed in the Atlantic in July.
• • •
2020 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane
PREPARE FOR COVID-19 AND THE STORM: The CDC's tips for this pandemic-hurricane season
PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job
NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter