It doesn’t look like Hurricane Isaias will be crashing any Southwest Florida weekend parties – that is, if there are any to crash.
Instead, residents are heaving a sigh of relief now that forecasters are predicting the storm will track toward the state’s east coast, rather than a trek up the middle as appeared might happen earlier.
Latest updates: Hurricane Isaias getting better organized; Florida's east coast under hurricane watch
“Mostly we’re monitoring how far west it might go – if there’s any little wobbles, that might bring wind gusts,” said Brian Lamarre, a National Weather Service forecaster in Ruskin, which monitors the area from Tampa to Lee County, but he’s not expecting any extraordinary rain. “When you’re on the left-hand side (it's) typically the drier part of the storm.
"We’re still obviously keeping a very close eye on the track of the system, because any little nudge father west could bring some of those tropical storm-force winds our way.”
This is good news for the region’s agricultural community, said regional extension agent Gene McAvoy, because field preparation has already started on some farms.
“We’re relieved now that models show it staying off the east coast a good ways … We’ll see some rain; we’ll see some wind, but nothing major,” said McAvoy, an associate director of UF’s Southwest Florida Research and Education Center.
“Some guys have already started laying (crop row) plastic in Southwest Florida and I’ve noticed a few of them have put things on hold just in case,” McAvoy said, “but I think most people are feeling real confident right now that it’s not going to be a problem.”
One group whose plans might get crimped are Lake Okeechobee-bound boaters and anglers. The South Florida Water Management District is closing its lake locks for the weekend. The S-127 boat lock at Buckhead Ridge and the S-131 boat lock at Lakeport were being shut down Friday night and Clewiston’s S-310 boat lock closes at 10 a.m. Saturday.
For its part, the U.S. Army Corps of engineers is expanding operating hours for its locks on the Caloosahatchee and the rest of the Okeechobee Waterway from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. starting Friday through Tuesday. Normally, the Ortona and W.P. Franklin locks close by 5 p.m.
At 13.21 feet, Lake Okeechobee is relatively low right now, so managers don’t think they’ll have to send any extra nutrient- or algae-laden water down the Caloosahatchee, spokesman Jim Yocum said in a release. Earlier this month, a bloom was covering half of the lake's surface.
“The current forecast shows a high level of confidence that the lake will not receive hurricane-force winds,” Yocum wrote, but the Corps will “continue monitoring weather forecasts and notify the public if that changes."
It looks like the west coast can relax and sit this one out, said Miami-based National Weather Service meteorologist Shawn Bhatti, whose region includes Collier County.
“We don’t even have anything out right now as far as tropical storm watches or warnings. I mean, tomorrow, we could see some showers or storms, because there’s a 50 to 60% chance of precipitation around Naples … maybe a little breezy because of how broad the circulation will be, but it’s pretty manageable. Nothing super out-of-the-ordinary that would cause devastation over here.”
And that little break is just fine with Bhatti.
“It’s what we need for 2020, right?”
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