Thursday, September 2, 2004

“This Is Going to Happen”

From the Miami Herald:

Forecasters extended a hurricane watch this morning over more of South Florida — and they added a flood watch through 8 p.m. Sunday — as a monstrous Hurricane Frances prowled relentlessly closer.

Emergency managers ordered mass evacuations upstate and pleaded with residents everywhere to make final preparations today.

No one could say with precision where the core might drill the East Coast, but the projected track this morning suggested that Frances’ worst weather could move closer to South Florida than previously believed. Regardless of where its center strikes, Frances was a colossal Category 4 storm with 145-mph winds capable of sweeping destruction and deadly consequences.

Emergency managers ordered nearly 500,000 people to evacuate coastal regions of Palm Beach County and several counties to the north. Additional orders could come today, including evacuations in parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Schools in Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties are closed to students today and Friday, in some cases so the buildings can be employed — if necessary — as public shelters.

“This is going to happen,” Jim Lushine, the National Weather Service’s severe weather expert for South Florida, said of a Frances landfall. “It looks like the east coast of Florida will get slammed by a big storm. The wind is going to shake their world.”

Though a shift in any direction remained possible, Frances’ fierce core could reach land near Palm Beach, forecasters said Wednesday night.

But they imposed the watch all the way from Craig Key in the middle Florida Keys to Flagler Beach, north of Daytona Beach, meaning that hurricane conditions could arrive throughout that area within 36 hours. They also issued an inland hurricane wind watch for western Miami-Dade and Broward.

And they repeatedly emphasized that everyone in any hurricane watch area is vulnerable to a direct hit by the core.

At the least, they said, South Florida was likely to experience tropical storm-force wind of at least 39 mph Friday and could endure hurricane winds of at least 74 mph.