(TNS) - A disorganized mess of rain and wind, Tropical Storm Isaias churned north parallel to Florida’s coast but its worst winds remained offshore on Sunday night, appearing to largely spare a state already struggling to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
The storm, as of 8 p.m. on Sunday, was packing winds of 70 miles per hour as it moved about 55 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral, with a possible landfall in the Carolinas early in the week.
South Floridians felt some effects, for sure.
From Miami to Palm Beach, Isaias dumped two to four inches of rain, knocked out power to a few hundred customers and kicked up plenty of ocean swells, to the delight of surfers. But there was little reported damage by Sunday evening.
Miami-Dade announced golf courses, beaches and marinas would open for business on Monday. Broward County on Sunday evening lowered drawbridges, so auto traffic could resume over waterways.
By Sunday evening, Palm Beach County was already closing shelters it had opened with special isolation areas for people possibly infected with COVID-19.
Bill Johnson, the director of emergency management for Palm Beach County, said at an afternoon press conference Sunday that the county received “no reports of storm surge or significant flooding.”
“We are blessed that Hurricane Isaias spared us of significant damage,” Johnson said.
Palm Beach Mayor Dave Kerner said the storm offered a “great practice round” for what figures to be a busy 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.
Forecasters expected the storm, currently moving at 9 mph, to pick up speed Monday afternoon on its track toward the Carolinas.
The storm’s center is likely to remain over the Gulf Stream’s warm waters as it heads north, though forecasters expect wind shear to keep it from intensifying greatly. The National Hurricane Center, still mindful that Isaias could strength a bit as it veers northeast over the Atlantic, on Sunday evening issued a hurricane watch from the South Santee River, S.C., to Surf City, N.C.
Tropical Storm Isaias flirted with Florida after it briefly became a Category 1 hurricane, following a pass over the Dominican Republic and Haiti; at least two deaths in the Domincan Republic were blamed on the storm.
The storm late Saturday passed over the Bahamas, the island chain still recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Dorian last year.
In the Bahamas, the storm flooded some front yards, snapped trees in half and toppled power lines. But the system still largely spared the Bahamas, which like Florida is grappling with a coronavirus crisis.
At 9 a.m. on Sunday, the Bahamas’ National Emergency Agency gave the all clear for the entire country, though officials urged caution where pockets of severe weather could still pass through. Wind and rain continued to hit Grand Bahama, where residents posted images and videos of flooded streets and docks Sunday morning. A journalist from the Nassau Guardian shared locals’ post on her Twitter account.
As the storm approached South Florida, residents were optimistic that the National Hurricane Center’s official forecast sparing the region the worst would hold firm.
Up and down Miami Beach on Sunday morning, one was more likely to find a surfboard than a fallen branch as locals basked in the swells that Isaias kicked up.
On the city’s north shore, Isaias could have been much worse, but it could have been better for weekend surfer Rodolfo Bueno. The 33-year-old was trying to catch waves off the beach near 66th Street shortly before 10 a.m. Sunday, with some success and more bobbing while smaller swells rolled by.
“I expected them to be higher. Yesterday was better,” said Bueno, a finance executive from North Miami, as rain sprinkled from a gray sky. “It’s pretty good. It’s not too stormy.”
Further south, at South Point Beach. A group of about 50 gathered at the beach beginning as early as 6 a.m. By 10 a.m., the waves died down some, and one group made plans to head north to Delray Beach, chasing the surfing-friendly conditions.
“This is what we dream about, the hurricane swells,” said a smiley J.C. Bravo, 46. “Now we have to go chase it.”
Not everyone was spared storm-related discomfort.
Florida Power & Light reported 480 customers Palm Beach County had lost power as of 1 p.m. Sunday. In Miami-Dade, 470 customers had lost power, 330 in Broward.
Broward County Mayor Dale Holness himself lost power at his home in Plantation, the Sun-Sentinel reported. FPL crews were still stationed across the state, ready to respond to outages throughout Sunday night.
Still, by the evening, many officials around the state were breathing easier. Jared Moskowitz, the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, told WPLG Local 10 that Florida appeared to be “in good shape.”
Indian River County on Sunday closed three shelters it had opened up for residents.
“I am not aware of any severe damage in the county. We appreciate Indian River County residents taking this seriously. It was a quick reaction getting ready for it,” said county spokesman Brian Sullivan.
Palm Tran, Palm Beach county’s public transportation, as well as Tri-Rail services said will resume regular service Monday, as will county offices will open for regular business Monday.
Miami-Dade officials announced that all county parks and recreational facilities that closed over the weekend will reopen Monday with normal hours of operation, including beaches, marinas, golf courses and the Deering Estate.
In Broward County, local police and fire departments reported little to no issues related to the storm. Many cities reopened amenities after the tropical storm warning for the county was lifted early Sunday.
Hallandale Beach’s sandy shore reopened to the public, though lifeguards still flew a red flag due to rip currents. Deerfield Beach reopened its International Fishing Pier for small groups. Mayor Holness said parks and other nature areas in the county would also reopen Monday.
“#Isaias has had minimal impact on us, thankfully,” Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis tweeted. “It could have presented some challenges if it had been more severe as it came amid #COVID19.”
Isaias still tested the state’s new hurricane protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moskowitz told WPLG Local 10 reporter Glenna Milburg that hundreds of hotels have offered to provide “non-congregant” sheltering for people in flood-prone homes who may have nowhere else to go during a storm. Palm Beach County allowed people who live in mobile homes to voluntarily evacuate due to Isaias, though Moskowitz didn’t say whether anyone had utilized the hotels.
Moskowitz said state-supported walk-up and drive-through COVID-19 testing sites would probably remain closed for about “three-and-a-half days,” but didn’t clarify a reopening date. A spokesman did not respond to a request for clarification.
Holness, however, wrote in a tweet Sunday that the state-supported COVID-19 test sites in his county would be closed through Tuesday, August 4.
Herald staff writers Samantha J. Gross, Carli Teproff, Martin Vassolo, Alex Harris and Douglas Hanks, as well as writer Sue Cocking, contributed to this report.
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