Irma's Already Impacting Gulf Coast Life



Hurricane Irma could disrupt life on the Gulf Coast whether it hits the region directly or not. Already, the storm led school officials in Manatee and Sarasota counties to cancel school on Friday, and emergency officials in both counties will discuss how many shelters will need to be opened in the region based on the most up-to-date forecast.

Scott Montgomery, Sarasota County emergency management section chief, says if storm paths indicate a likelihood of the storm hitting the county directly, then convenient shelters will be opened for those who cannot stay in their homes. But even if the hurricane hits Florida’s east coast, there will likely be many residents from that area who get displaced to the west coast. “We would prepare our shelters to receive evacuees,” Montgomery says. He notes the state last year ordered Manatee, Sarasota, Lee and Collier counties to assist with housing those forced away from their homes by Hurricane Matthew, a hurricane which ended up following a track similar to what many meteorological models predicted for Irma as of late Wednesday.

At Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, those fleeing the weather likely already have been impacting flights. “Flights have been full,” says Rick Piccolo, SRQ airport CEO. Certainly, much of that can be attributed to the high number of passengers who travel to and from the Gulf Coast during this time of year, but airlines have reported an uptick in traffic on top of that. But some flights will cease this weekend. American Airlines announced on Wednesday that it would cancel all operations at airports in Sarasota, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers and West Palm Beach through the weekend starting Friday. Piccolo has been working with officials for all airlines with operations at SRQ, and says the airport will be properly prepared fro a direct hit. And if the storm hits elsewhere, the airport will be able to take in other flights that may get redirected because of weather, should the need arise.

An advisory released by the National Hurricane Center at 8pm still included most of Florida in the cone of uncertainty, including the entire Gulf Coast. Storm path models as of late Wednesday predicted the storm would most likely head up Florida’s east coast, but Irma had yet to make any significant northward turn. The National Hurricane Center warning cone shows the storm eye north of Cuba at 2pm Saturday and over Miami at 2pm Sunday.

Image courtesy National Hurricane Center

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