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Hurricane Isaias headed to South Florida as state’s first hurricane watches issued

The storm had 75 mph winds as of 11 a.m. It's headed for the Bahamas — then next to Florida's east coast.

A hurricane is now churning toward Florida and taking aim at the southeastern part of the peninsula.

The National Hurricane Center announced in a midnight bulletin that Tropical Storm Isaias had reached hurricane strength in the Caribbean Sea, becoming the second hurricane of the Atlantic storm season.

Hurricane Isaias had 75 mph sustained winds as of 11 a.m. Friday. The center said hurricane warnings were issued for most of the Bahamas.

Tampa Bay still remains out of Isaias’ projected path, which is now expected to move parallel along Florida’s coast, moving up the Atlantic toward the Carolinas this weekend.

But it is still uncertain whether Isaias will make landfall somewhere in Florida, or stay in the water and lash the east coast with hurricane-force winds and rain as it passes by, or steer further east into the Atlantic Ocean. No named storm has made landfall in Florida so far this year.

While that path has not changed since earlier advisories, Isaias has slowed down, going from 22 mph on Wednesday to 16 mph as of 11 a.m. Friday.

The slower speed means the hurricane will spend more time in warm water, which could give Isaias more time to strengthen and potentially wreak havoc upon the Bahamas, where many islanders are still reeling from the catastrophic Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

Hurricane conditions and dangerous storm surge are expected in portions of the Bahamas today and Saturday, and hurricane warnings are in effect for these areas, according to the Hurricane Center.

“We know from past and recent experience that storms could change course very quickly,” Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis warned his countrymen during a Thursday news conference. “They can intensify rapidly as we saw with hurricane Dorian. So I ask all Bahamians and residents to take this storm seriously and to make preparations.”

Heavy rains associated with Isaias may begin to affect south and east-central Florida beginning late Friday night, and the eastern Carolinas by early next week, potentially resulting in isolated flash and urban flooding.

A hurricane watch was in effect Friday for north of Deerfield Beach to the Volusia-Brevard County Line. A tropical storm warning was in effect for north of Ocean Reef to Sebastian Inlet and for Lake Okeechobee.

In its 5 p.m. advisory on Thursday, the center had projected that Isaias wouldn’t strengthen into a hurricane until later Friday — possibly not until the evening. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took a similar tone as Minnis on Thursday when talking about Isaias during a news conference, warning that storms’ strength and path can change on a dime.

“While we can’t be certain of the exact track of the storm and we certainly can’t be sure of the intensity it will reach, we do expect to see impacts to the state,” said DeSantis. “Make sure you have a plan and have seven days of food, water and medicine.”

Isaias has already shown its potential for destruction on Thursday when it knocked out power to more than 400,000 customers and left 150,000 without water in Puerto Rico. At least 35 people, including two newborn babies, had to be rescued by the National Guard, according to the Associated Press.

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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

PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Get your documents and your data ready for a storm

BUILD YOUR KIT: The stuff you’ll need to stay safe — and comfortable — for the storm

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

Lessons from Hurricane Michael

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael

What Tampa Bay school leaders fear most from a storm

Tampa Bay’s top cops fear for those who stay behind

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