Another Storm Draws Gulf Coast's Attention



The occasional storm system tracking toward Florida happens nearly every hurricane season, but weeks after a historic storm struck the state, emergency leaders were quick to turn attention toward a tropical depression forming in Latin America on Wednesday. Emergency Operations Center officials in Manatee and Sarasota counties already issued memos alerting government staff about the system, and other government facilities that will potentially deal with the storm have already started to make plans. 

Sherilyn Burris, Manatee County chief of emergency management says her offices were in regular communication starting Wednesday with state emergency officials and the National Weather Service to learn more about the track of the storm. “We’ll maintain our communication with the meteorologists and with our response partners as more information becomes available with each new forecast advisory,” Burris says. Similarly, Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane was part of conference calls into the evening getting up-to-date information of the storm path. “We’re not in the ‘cone of uncertainty’ but we’re close enough,” McCrane says. “When a cone is in the Gulf of Mexico, anyone on the west coast of Florida feels like it’s in our backyard."

Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport operations manager Lionel Gilbert issued a message to news media and airport tenants. “Preliminary forecast shows this depression becoming a Category One hurricane by 8am Sunday morning, with the cone of uncertainty passing just north of Tampa Bay,” he wrote. “Airport Operations will actively monitor the storm's progress and plan an airport tenants meeting Friday morning if warranted.”

Officials at the Manatee County Emergency Operations Center say they have already started to closely pay attention to forecasts issued by the National Hurricane Center, which predicts a landfall for a hurricane in the Tampa Bay area.

And at the Sarasota County Schools, officials said they will work closely with Sarasota County officials if needed. “Right now, it’s wait and watch and see,” says Scott Ferguson, Sarasota County School District spokesman. Schools will respond, be it through shelters or canceling school, if that course of action becomes warranted. Of course, students already have missed a substantial amount of school, and Sarasota schools have extended the school day by 30 minutes for the rest of the school year to make up for lost time. Officials will figure out how to address more cancellations if necessary.

McCrane notes that while it’s been weeks since Hurricane Irma delivered storm force winds here, downing countless trees and causing extensive power outages, the region remains in recovery mode. “We still have debris on the ground,” he notes, and with many collection trucks handling worse hit parts of the state or still helping clean up parts of Texas impacted by Hurricane Harvey, there will likely still be debris here if a storm hits this weekend.

But to date, there’s been no need to cancel events or activate a larger staff of first responders than normal; McCrane says some of those decisions will be made based on the storm path today. If the depression hits mountainous land regions in Latin America, it will likely dissipate, but of it goes through straits off Nicaragua, the storm could grow in power.

"As the storm formation becomes more apparent and the track and intensity forecast become more certain,” Burris says, “we will notify our Board of County Commissioners and Administration regarding the potential of any impacts here. Each storm is different so each storm brings with it different impacts: rain, storm surge, strong winds—with the added complication of the arrival and departure times of each of those impacts.”

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