The forecast track for Tropical Storm Isaias continued to shift to the east Thursday morning, putting most or all of the Tampa Bay region outside of the storm’s projected path.
With maximum sustained winds of 60 mph, Isaias lashed Puerto Rico with strong wind and heavy rain as the center of the storm approached Hispaniola, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 11 a.m. advisory. The storm is still headed toward Florida but the current forecast now shows the western portion of the peninsula outside of the cone of uncertainty.
The western edge of the cone appears to be over or just east of Hillsborough County.
Isaias was moving northwest at about 20 mph and caused high winds and life-threatening flash flooding on the island, according to the Hurricane Center.
The storm was expected to become less organized as it moves across the high terrain of Hispaniola later Thursday, the gradually strengthen again. Just how strong, though, remained unclear. The hurricane center called the intensity forecast “challenging” and noted that some computer models suggest Isaias could become a hurricane when nears the United States.
The current forecast shows the storm continuing on a northwest path as it nears the Bahamas on Friday and South Florida on Saturday, then shifting to a more northerly track, its center skirting Florida’s east coast later Saturday and Sunday before turning northeast again. This path shows the storm threatening Georgia and the Carolinas by Monday.
Tropical storm warnings were in effect Thursday for the Virgin Islands, portions of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the Turks and Caicos islands and portions of the Bahamas.
When tropical storms pass east of the bay area, that usually results in dry weather for the west coast of Florida, said Spectrum Bay News 9 Meteorologist Brian McClure. The outlook for this region will be clearer by Thursday night, McClure said.
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.”
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.
Times staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report.
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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