Flagler, St. Johns under Tropical Storm Watch as Hurricane Isaias nears Florida

Hurricane Isaias will emerge from the Bahamas and brush the coast of South Florida today, bringing tropical conditions along the First Coast on Sunday.

The storm strengthened to 85 mph sustained winds Friday night but did not strengthen overnight. The lopsided system does not look very impressive on satellite but has left a trail of debris from its path through the Caribbean.

The 5 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center said Isaias was centered about 80 miles south-southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas and moving northwest at 12 mph.

The NHC anticipates very little strengthening due to dry air impacting the storm, which is good news. Isaias is forecast to remain a hurricane for until Sunday night when it passes well east of Jacksonville as a tropical storm.

If Isaias follows the predicted track, impacts on the Northeast Florida area would be minimal with rough surf, a high risk for rip currents and coastal rain.

“He is a small, borderline hurricane that is unlikely to super intensify,” The Weather Authority chief meteorologist John Gaughan said. “If this was late August or early September, this would be a whole different story.”

Gaughan said the recent changes in strength and track changes little for our area, with rainfall totals 2-3″ in St Johns County, up to 4-5″ in spots in Flagler County. From Jacksonville Beach north into Georgia should see less than 2 inches of rain along the coast and under 1 inch inland, although a few isolated areas could more and other inland areas might get little or no rain.

The greatest impact along Northeast Florida’s coastline will be late Saturday night through midday Sunday. Coastal Georgia will get the most wind and rain later on Sunday.

“Local impacts will be that of a weak tropical storm -- far less than we have recently experienced with (Hurricanes) Mathew and Irma,” he said.

By Friday night, Miami officials beaches, marinas and parks .Miami Mayor Carlos Giménez said Friday that 20 evacuation centers were on standby that could be set up with COVID-19 safety measures.

“We still don’t think there is a need to open shelters for this storm, but they are ready,” he said.

Authorities in North Carolina ordered the evacuation of Ocracoke Island, which was slammed by last year’s Hurricane Dorian, starting Saturday evening.

Storm batters Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic

 Hurricane Isaias ripped shingles off roofs and blew over trees as it carved its way through the Bahamas early Saturday and headed toward the Florida coast.

While still a tropical storm, Isaias toppled trees, destroyed crops and caused widespread flooding and small landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, where hundreds of thousands of people were left without power and water.

Officials reported that a man died in the Dominican Republic when he was electrocuted by a fallen electrical cable.

The Puerto Rico National Guard rescued at least 35 people from floodwaters, which swept away one woman who remains missing.

Paula Miller, Mercy Corps director for the Bahamas, told The Associated Press that while the islands can normally withstand strong hurricanes, some have been destabilized by the coronavirus pandemic and the damage caused by Dorian.

“With everything not quite shored up, property not secured, home not prepared, even a Category 1 will be enough to set them back,” she said.

A hurricane warning was in effect for the northwestern Bahamas, including Andros Island, New Providence, Eleuthera, Abacos Islands, Berry Islands, Grand Bahamas Island, and Bimini.

Two of those islands, Abaco and Grand Bahama, were battered by Dorian, a Category 5 storm that hovered over the area for two days and killed at least 70 people, with more than 280 reported missing. People are still living in tents on both islands, and officials said crews were trying to remove leftover debris ahead of Isaias.

Stephen Russell, director of the Bahamas' Emergency Management Agency, said there were no plans to evacuate people, but he urged those living in low-lying areas to seek shelter.

Given the pandemic, the prime minister urged young people to stay safe from the approaching storm to respect social distancing measures.

“Please do not engage in hurricane or COVID(-19) parties,’' he said. ``It can be devastating.‘'

Isaias was expected to produce 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) of rain in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Isaias is the earliest ninth Atlantic named storm to form, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. The previous record was Irene on August 7, 2005, Klotzbach tweeted.

So far this year, Cristobal, Danielle, Edouard, Fay, Gert and Hanna have also been the earliest named Atlantic storms for their alphabetic order.

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