County-by-county: Northeast Florida prepares for Eta

Our area will begin to feel the effects overnight into Thursday morning

NASA photo

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Eta is bringing heavy squalls with tropical-storm-force winds onshore as it tracks northeast across Northeast Florida.

Pointing to the “erratic nature” of the storm as it threatened a large part of Florida’s west coast, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday expanded a state of emergency and asked President Donald Trump for a federal emergency declaration as Tropical Storm Eta prepared to make landfall Thursday.

Eta is expected to bring heavy rainfall and flash flooding in North Florida. Eta had strengthened into a hurricane again after 7 a.m. Wednesday, with maximum sustained winds around 75 mph off the coast, before the storm was downgraded around 1 p.m. back to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds near 70 mph.

It had 50 mph when it came ashore near Ceder Key -- north of Tampa -- about 4 a.m. It will be a weak tropical storm or possibly even a depression as it moves across Northeast Florida.

TRACKING ETA: Wind and rain will increase as Eta approaches from the southwest

Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene said all students will move to online learning on Thursday and all after-school activities are canceled. Greene said the decision was made out of an abundance of caution due to possible transportation issues.

Elementary school classes will begin online at 10 a.m. and conclude at 3 p.m. Secondary school classes will begin and end at their normal time and students that attend Duval Virtual Instructional Academy will do their work in their normal platform, Greene said.

About 5 p.m., Clay County District Schools announced all schools and offices within the district will be closed on Thursday, and all after-school activities will be canceled. The district’s website said if everything goes according to plan, schools will resume normal operations on Friday.

“Please know the decision to close schools is not taken lightly,” the district said in a statement posted online. “As always, the safety of every individual is our top priority. We do have hurricane days built into our revised calendar for this school year, so no adjustments will need to be made to the student calendar.”

Alachua County Public Schools made the decision Wednesday to close schools on Thursday. No decision has been made for Friday, the district said. Columbia County is also closing its schools in anticipation of the storm. Nearby school districts in Marion, Suwannee and Gilchrist counties also decided to close schools on Thursday.

The school district in Putnam County announced it plans to be open on Thursday, but those plans could change.

The Bradford County School District said it is closing schools Thursday due to Eta.

News4Jax reached out to several other school districts to find out what their plans are but we have not yet heard back.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday expanded a state of emergency, which now includes Alachua County. City of Gainesville officials anticipate severe weather conditions, which will lead to the activation of the city’s Severe Weather and Cold Night Shelter (CNS) Program Wednesday night. St. Francis House and GRACE Marketplace at the Empowerment Center will provide Severe Weather Shelter services to people in need of shelter. The CNS program providers serve additional persons in need of shelter so that families and individuals desiring shelter will have a safe and warm place to stay. St. Francis House provides temporary shelter that is appropriate for families, women and children. GRACE Marketplace primarily serves individual adults.

MORE: Mayor Curry has no plans for evacuations or shelters as Tropical Storm Eta approaches

Here is what’s going on in Duval County:

  • Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene said Wednesday evening that all students in Duval County will move to online learning on Thursday and all after-school activities have been canceled.JFRD is rostering for ERAT teams. No plans to activate at this time.
  • JEA is conducting pre-storm checks for critical infrastructure.
  • JSO is rostering for bridge and traffic impacts, no plans to activate at this time.
  • COJ Department of Public Works is clearing storm drains and assessing lift stations.
  • EPD is monitoring forecast changes and providing situational updates.
  • Jacksonville International Airport says its emergency operations team is currently monitoring Eta. If you are traveling from JAX over the next few days, JIA says, remember to check flight status with your airline before coming to the airport.
  • Nomi Health has closed the state COVID-19 testing site at the Regency Square Mall in Jacksonville on Thursday due to the weather.
  • At Jacksonville Beach, lifeguards are warning people Eta will bring dangerous water conditions.

“Our EOC has been operating this for days,” said Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on Wednesday morning. “There’s another briefing this afternoon. I was briefed this morning. I would ask people to pay attention to local news. We don’t have any actions for people to take at this moment in time. They should be ready for storms, hurricane season, their kids should be prepared, they should know their zone. There’s no expected evacuations, no expected action. That could change."

The City of St. Augustine says it was already expecting high tides and the storm is expected to raise the tides even higher. Officials said city employees have been checking storm drains and preparing for any potential flooding. The St. Augustine Police Department is also monitoring for any potential street closures and watching over several areas within city limits, including South Davis Shores, Bay Front and King Street.

Flagler County said residents can expect the following impacts from Eta on Thursday mid-morning through the evening:

  • Sustained winds of 20-30 mph
  • Gusts as high as 40-50 mph near the coast and other open areas
  • Rain of 1 to 2 inches, with locally heavier amounts
  • Potential for minor flooding during high tide in the low-lying areas along the Intracoastal Waterway, though likely to be less than what was seen earlier this week
  • Dangerous rip currents remain a threat along the coast

“While our Tropical Storm impacts may be minimal, we urge our residents, businesses, and visitors not to be complacent but to take time today to review your emergency plan, and to make sure your disaster supply kit is stocked,” said Flagler County Emergency Management Director Jonathan Lord. “Prepare for the potential of isolated power outages and wind-blown debris, and put away loose outdoor items, such as patio furniture.”

The tropical storm watches and warnings took effect overnight... The storm's path could potentially mean changes for schools, local governments, and businesses around our area. News4Jax reporter Ashley Harding joins us LIVE.

The Florida Department of Transportation said early Tuesday morning its crews will be following the storm closely. Those could include potential bridge closures, but at this time FL511 expects minimal impacts. You can follow updates on road closures and more on their website.

During an appearance on The Weather Channel, DeSantis urged residents to use caution and warned of a possibly devastating storm surge along the west coast.

“We have not had major power outages yet but we obviously think that that is going to happen,” DeSantis said. “It may not be massive outages in any one spot but it’s going to be over a large portion of that west coast where they’ll probably be some.”

DeSantis said there have not been any massive evacuations ordered but in some low lying areas in Manatee County and Hernando County, there have been voluntary evacuations.

The Associated Press and News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

About the Authors:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013. She reports for and anchors The Morning Show.

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.