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As forecasters await more definite consensus on where the storm is going, emergency managers across the Southeast should be preparing for another major hurricane.
As the flood response and recovery continues in Houston and other parts of southeastern Texas following Hurricane Harvey and western states endure a tough wildfire season, state and local agencies in Florida are preparing to deal with what's shaping up to be the next major U.S. disaster.
Hurricane Irma continues to gain strength in the Atlantic Ocean and head toward the Bahamas and South Florida in the coming days. In the near term, hurricane watches and warnings are in effect for the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and other northeastern Caribbean islands.
As of Monday afternoon, National Hurricane Center said the Irma’s winds were of Category 3 strength and the storm's forecasted track shifted southwest, bringing it closer to the northern coast of Cuba and Straits of Florida by the end of the week. But an expected turn northward this weekend could lead to several possible impacts for Florida and the Southeastern U.S.
"There is an increasing chance of seeing some impacts from Irma in the Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys later this week and this weekend," Dan Brown, a forecaster with the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory on Monday.
State, county and local officials in South Florida, especially in the Florida Keys, are advising the public to start making preparations.
“Now is the time to make sure you and your family have established an emergency plan and to stock up your emergency kit,” according to a statement released by Monroe County Emergency Management officials on Monday.
Monroe County includes the Florida Keys, a low-lying string of islands connected by the U.S. 1 Overseas Highway, a series of long causeways and bridges extending southwest from the Florida peninsula. Because of its vulnerable geography, the Keys are more challenging to evacuate.
“We’re looking at the ‘bubble of doom’ that is the five-day mark, which we think will be Tuesday morning,” Monroe County Emergency Management Director Mary Senterfitt told FLKeysNews on Friday. “That’s when we would really stand up and get active. But we’ve been watching and working Irma all week.”
The Florida Division of Emergency Management has advised residents to sign up for emergency disaster alerts, know where evacuation zones are and make other preparations including stockpiling water and securing a backup battery or solar-charger for cellphones.
Beyond Florida, state and local agencies along the Southeast U.S. coast need to watch Irma closely.
Forecasts beyond the five-day mark are still full of uncertainties, but the trend in both the American and European ensemble members is concerning. It’s becoming less likely that Irma will escape out to sea, and the chances of a U.S. landfall have increased compared with [Sunday].
That could likely mean impacts next week for the Carolinas or points northward along the East Coast.
Stay tuned ...
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.