Tropical Weather Threatens Florida With Heavy Rain and Floods

4 June 2022

KEY WEST, Fla. — Three days into hurricane season, and South Floridians were already being warned to rehearse a familiar drill: Clear storm drains, get sandbags if your neighborhood tends to flood and watch out for standing water.

A rapidly growing weather system brewing in the Gulf of Mexico was expected to bring up to 1 foot of rain and flooding to South Florida and parts of Cuba on Friday and into the weekend, meteorologists said.

“It’s going to be a soaker,” said Shirley Borg, who lives in an area prone to flooding in Key Largo.

Borg went to the supermarket Thursday to prepare for being trapped in her house for the next three days. Airlines have already begun canceling flights.

A tropical storm warning, bringing with it an elevated risk of extremely strong winds and heavy rain, was in effect across South Florida, western Cuba and northwestern parts of the Bahamas. As of early Friday evening, the system had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph — with even higher gusts. It was expected to develop a well-defined center and could become Tropical Storm Alex, the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The center said the storm was likely to strengthen as it moved toward Florida on Friday. It warned that the storm could intensify further over the weekend, after it moves east of Florida and over the western Atlantic late Saturday and Sunday.

“The main threat right now is the potential for heavy rainfall and flash flooding,” said Maria Torres, a spokesperson for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Rainfall totals associated with the storm were expected to be wide-ranging. Western Cuba could see up to 14 inches of rain with the possibility of life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides, forecasters said. Some areas in the northwestern Bahamas could see up to 10 inches.

The forecast for Florida included the possibility of tornadoes over the southern portion of the state through Saturday. South Florida and the Keys could see 4 to 8 inches of rain, with isolated totals up to 12 inches. The hurricane center warned of “considerable” flash flooding and said that some cities along the coast could see a storm surge of up to 3 feet.

People who live in parts of South Florida that are prone to floods should identify a safe place to go to if waters begin to rise, and be careful not to drive through standing water, Torres said.

“Turn around, don’t drown,” she said.

Officials in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and other cities were distributing free sandbags Friday. Miami’s zoo said it would be closed Friday and Saturday to allow staff members to prepare the facility for the storm. In Key West, an LGBT street festival to kick off Pride Month was canceled.

In Palmetto Bay, an incorporated suburb about 15 miles south of Miami, officials were particularly concerned Friday with the possibility of heavy rains, given that almost all of the village’s 8 square miles are in a flood zone.

“We’re encouraging residents to keep their storm drains clear of debris,” Mayor Karyn Cunningham said. She noted that the village had increased its yearly budget for drain clearing but urged the village’s 25,000 residents to play their part, including by keeping roads clear of obstructions and drains free of landscape clippings.

“We’ve been preparing for months for the upcoming hurricane season and take emergency response seriously,” Cunningham said. “We have to focus people’s minds around the fact that it’s hurricane season.”

Caroline Horn, manager of a group that fights flood insurance price hikes in the Florida Keys, said the warnings began early.

“I’m already getting notices on my phone to watch out for standing water,” Horn said. “We check the radar, every day, multiple times a day.”

As of Friday night, the storm was about 195 miles northeast of the western tip of Cuba, or about 185 miles southwest of Fort Myers, Florida. It was moving at 12 mph and was expected to continue across the southeastern Gulf of Mexico through Friday night and then across portions of Florida on Saturday.

Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said many areas had already seen significant amounts of rain Friday. No storm-related power outages had been reported, he said.

“Now is not the time to get out and go shop for something. It’s not the time to prepare,” he said “The rain is coming.”

Hurricane Agatha, the first named storm in the eastern Pacific region, roared into Mexico this week as a Category 2 storm with heavy rains and damaging winds. It killed at least nine people and left five others missing, the governor of the southern state of Oaxaca, Alejandro Murat, said Friday morning.

The concern for dangerous weather in the Atlantic began this week when forecasters said a large area of disturbed weather, related to the remnants of the hurricane, had formed near the Yucatán Peninsula and had interacted with an upper-level trough over the Gulf of Mexico.

Meteorologists expect an “above normal” Atlantic hurricane season, which runs through Nov. 30, with 14 to 21 named storms considered likely. Up to 10 of those are expected to reach hurricane strength.

Roman Gastesi, the county administrator in the Florida Keys, said he took his boat out of the water but did not go so far as to put up hurricane shutters. The county warned that some coastal residents might see flooding of up to 2 feet.

“It’s a good time to dust off your hurricane plans,” Gastesi said. “Here we go, it’s hurricane season. It’s certainly not the big one, but it puts us on alert.” This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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