MIAMI (BLOOMBERG) – A weakened Tropical Storm Isaias edged nearer to Florida where it will probably re-strengthen to a hurricane as its winds start to reach the coastline, adding to woes for a state grappling with record cases of Covid-19.
Winds dipped to 113kmh, just below hurricane strength as Isaias came within 160km of Miami, the National Hurricane Centre said.
Despite its weakened state, hurricane warnings remain along Florida’s east coast.
Governor Ron DeSantis and President Donald Trump declared an emergency, while billions of dollars of economic damage are likely if the system rakes up along the eastern seaboard.
Nasa may have to delay the return flight of two astronauts from the International Space Station planned for Sunday (Aug 2), given the conditions.
The hurricane swept across the Bahamas, causing power outages, and Puerto Rico officials on Saturday recovered the body of a woman killed in a flood when Isaias swept by the island two days earlier.
“Isaias is forecast to regain hurricane status tonight,” Stacy Stewart, a meteorologist at the centre, wrote in his forecast.
“Hurricane conditions are expected along portions of Florida east coast on Sunday.”
Florida’s daily Covid-19 death toll rose to a record earlier this week.
Officials in Florida’s coastal counties are distributing sandbags and telling residents to shelter in place. Coronavirus testing along the east coast has been halted until Aug 5.
Isaias’ eye will make its closest approach to Florida’s coast on Sunday and “it’s still very worrisome that it can brush or move inland anywhere from West Palm Beach to Daytona,” said Rob Miller, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.
The eye wall, with some of the storm’s strongest winds, could actually buffet the coast without Isaias ever officially making landfall.
The storm weakened because of its interaction with the Bahamas, as well as sucking in dry air and running into some wind shear that tore at its structure, said Jim Rouiller, a meteorologist with the Energy Weather Group.
The storm should become a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale – even at that strength it could cause financial hardship to the East Coast.
The storm will cause some disruptions at four of the largest ports in the US, taxing supply chains, said Lou Gritzo, a vice-president and manager of research at insurer FM Global.
It also raises issues for people working from home if they face extended power outages.
“Having power and the critical infrastructure of home internet is now more important that ever,” Gritzo said.
Together, this could result in economic losses totalling US$3 billion, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research.
Flooding is likely to spread through North Carolina and into Virginia. That could have an impact on cotton crops in North Carolina, said Don Keeney, a meteorologist with Maxar.
After it passes Florida, Isaias could weaken to a tropical storm by the time it comes ashore near Cape Fear, North Carolina, late Monday, Miller said. It will likely then move back over the Atlantic before making a second landfall in New England.