On Friday afternoon, Aug. 21, 2020, Hernando County Commissioners and county staff members held a special meeting to discuss the storms that are moving into the Gulf of Mexico: Tropical Storm Laura and Tropical Storm Marco.
Cecilia Patella, Hernando County Emergency Operations Director described Tropical Storm Laura’s forecast. She related that according to National Weather Service in Tampa Bay at 1 pm on Aug. 21, 2020, the storm forecast cone for Tropical Storm Laura has moved slightly west. As it shows, the storm will pass slightly west of the Florida Peninsula, off the west-central and southwest parts of Florida. The National Weather Service also wants us to know that the impacts of the storm can extend well outside of that cone, so the areas outside of this forecast should prepare as well. The real track of these storms is based upon how fast/slow the storm is moving and how strong/weak it is.
Patella explained that the earliest time for the arrival of Tropical Storm Laura is estimated to be Monday morning at 8 am, but a more likely time will be 12 hours after the predicted time. Monday afternoon/night our area is predicted to have tropical-storm-force winds and heavy rain. As for tropical depression 14 (now Tropical Storm Marco as of Saturday morning), this storm is not projected to have any effect on Florida. The fact that both storms are moving into the Gulf at the same time is highly unusual.
The threat for marine life continues because the storms are going to be located out in the middle of the Gulf, however, we can see that there is a constant in terms of wind surge and rainfall, so that threat has not increased at this time. The river forecast shows that the Withlacoochee River is in really great shape at this moment. When it was checked Aug. 20, there was more than ample capacity for it to be able to absorb quite a bit of water before the river would become close to flooding. Even though we are in a wet season, the Withlacoochee River is well below normal levels at this time of year.
Some good news though is earlier today we were looking at four to seven inches of storm surge forecast. This was a safety concern because that amount of water would result in significant flooding of not just home roads, but coastal residencies themselves. However, since then this forecast has gone significantly down to one to two inches above normal tide. Even with normal high tide, the possibility of water on home roads and flooding over sea walls is very low. Rainfall is now expected to be around two to three inches, so there is still a possibility for local isolated flooding in some areas.
There are no counties around us that have declared a state of emergency.
If the state of the storm changes to more serious over the weekend, Hernando County has the resources to open shelters and get transportation to get its residents there. There will also be individually accommodated places/transportation for those with special needs. With the topic of public shelters, there comes the issue of COVID-19. Hernando County Emergency Management team has a protocol in place to address those concerns. Proper PPE has been gathered for the school districts specifically for this reason. Screenings will be conducted at the point of entry and sanitation rules will be in place. There are 14 shelters prepared to open to provide extra space for special needs residents and to meet COVID distancing standards.
Superintendent John Stratton cautions unnecessary use of schools as shelters during this time, “Once these public shelters become pet shelters as well, the cleaning that goes into that afterward is extensive. Air ducts have to be cleaned on top of the amount of sanitation that we already have to do because of COVID.” He directs a question at Cecilia, “Do we have other location options? My concern is if we have an active COVID case on campus before we even open the door to students. Along with the cleaning and downtime for that, are there other options?” In response, Cecilia stated that they can look into other options for places that can accommodate.
Churches are one option that is mentioned. But, if it’s an evacuation because of wind then schools are the only safe place to go.
Joe Bernardini, City of Brooksville mayor, stated that because of the recent loss of revenue during this pandemic, the city may consider declaring a state of emergency so that they will have funds for staff during the weekend. County Administrator Jeff Rogers said that the potential expenses for the county do not warrant the state of emergency to be declared considering the current forecast of Tropical Storm Laura. The county commission will reconsider declaring the emergency state Saturday, Aug. 21.
UPDATE FROM Hernando County Emergency Operations Center Saturday Aug. 22:
According to the National Hurricane Center, the forecast track for Tropical Storm Laura has shifted to the south and west, significantly decreasing the threat of severe weather for our area. On the current track, Laura is forecast to remain well to the east of the Gulf Coast. It is possible that we could experience squalls with strong wind and rain as the storm moves into the central Gulf of Mexico on Monday and Tuesday.
Residents should continue to monitor for any possible changes in the forecast track, forward speed, and intensity. Barring any major changes to the forecast throughout the weekend, this will likely be the last EOC Alert for this event.
Elsewhere, Tropical Storm Marco has recently been upgraded by the National Hurricane Center. This storm is not forecast to impact our area.
• Know your zone, Know your home. Have a plan to shelter in place if appropriate. https://floridadisaster.org/planprepare/know-your-zone-know-your-home/
• Register for automated severe weather notifications at http://www.AlertHernando.org
• Take this opportunity to refresh your emergency supply kit. For more information, visit http://www.HernandoCounty.us/EM
• Residents are encouraged to monitor local media outlets or the National Weather Service at https://www.weather.gov/tbw/ for current weather information.
• Test your weather radio today and change the battery if needed.