NE Florida emergency officials ready for storm

Officials want residents to be aware of rip currents

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - With Tropical Storm Arthur the first named storm of the year, News4Jax checked in with area emergency operations centers Tuesday to see what they are doing.

All northeast Florida centers are monitoring the storm, but so far none of the EOCs have been activated.

EOC staff in Jacksonville said they've been talking to state officials, getting a handle on what could happen. They said now is the time to review since they changed evacuation zones. They're not based on flooding and not on the category of a storm.

With Arthur, officials want residents to be aware.

The waters don't look threatening. In fact, they look inviting. And that is the concern for local officials, who want to make sure people take the storm seriously, even though the impact on land could be minimal.

Across the nation, rip currents kill, on average, 100 people a year. Researchers say they're much deadlier than shark attacks and lightning strikes and account for 80 percent of beach rescues. They're most dangerous in hurricane season.

"We have been monitoring the particular weather system for several days," said Steven Woodard, of Duval EOC. "We have been in close communications with the National Weather Service in Jacksonville and the National Hurricane Center in Miami, and in communications with the state emergency center."

On Tuesday in St. Johns County, there were state crews doing maintenance on storm drains along State Road A1A. It's one way to try to hold back flooding should storm surge become an issue.

"Right now we're predicting about 1.5 inches of rain over five days," said Linda Stoughton, of St. Johns County EOC. "We could have some isolated severe bands with isolated thunderstorms. But I think what we're looking at is a coastal event with rip currents."

While that may not sound like much, News4Jax chief meteorologist John Gaughan said some of those bands could stall and create some heavy rains and flooding in localized areas.

With the Fourth of July approaching, that rains could have an affect on crews that would be called in should the storm change course. But it's something staff in St. Johns County plans for.

"We would call people back," Stoughton said. "But one of the capabilities of the EOC, we have to be able to activate in one hour."

In Jacksonville, JEA is standing by just in case power outages become an issue.

"Doesn't look like the storm is going to affect us very much," JEA spokeswoman Gerri Boyce said. "if there are power outages, make sure you stay safe by using flashlights not candles. Make sure you have plenty of water and don't forget your little furry friends they are important, too."

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