Florida is in the path of a potential tropical storm for the first time this hurricane season.
Residents could see heavy rain and strong winds from the system by the end of the week and into next week, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management. It’s still too early to determine where the storm might hit.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday that residents could feel the effects of the storm into early next week. He encouraged everyone to prepare now by having at least seven days of disaster supplies.
The weather system, which should soon be Tropical Storm Isaias, was dumping heavy rain across the Leeward Islands of the eastern Caribbean on Wednesday, potentially unleashing „life-threatening” flash flooding and mudslides. This includes Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.
After moving near Puerto Rico on Wednesday night, the system will affect the Dominican Republic and Cuba before making its way to the U.S. mainland, possibly Florida, by the weekend.
President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration request from Puerto Rico’s governor, who also activated the National Guard.
The National Hurricane Center said the system, dubbed Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine, is expected to strengthen before it makes landfall in the Dominican Republic on Thursday, although the center cautioned it’s still unclear what the storm would do in upcoming days.
“The details of the long-range track and intensity forecasts remain more uncertain than usual since the system does not have a well-defined center and it is expected to move near or over portions of the Greater Antilles later this week and move near or over Florida this weekend,” the center said.
„While this system could bring some rainfall and wind impacts to portions of Cuba, the central and northwest Bahamas, and Florida later this week and this weekend, it is too
soon to determine the location or magnitude of those impacts,” the center said.
Tropical storm warnings were issued for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Officials in Puerto Rico expressed concern about the potential for landslides and flooding and noted the U.S. territory is struggling with a spike in coronavirus cases while also still recovering from 2017’s devastating Hurricane Maria and a string of earthquakes earlier this year that damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes in the island’s south.
At a news conference, Gov. Wanda Vázquez predicted the storm would cause power outages. The governor added that more than 300 shelters across the island were prepared to receive people if needed and that more than 130,000 face masks were available.
At 5 p.m. ET, the center of the storm was about 320 miles east-southeast of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The system was moving west-northwest near 23 mph. That general motion, with some slight reduction in speed, is expected over the next few days.
If Isaias forms, it would be another record-breaker for a season that hasn’t even reached the typical peak of hurricane activity. The current record for the earliest “I”-named storm is Irene on Aug. 7, 2005.
Contributing: The Associated Press; Cheryl McCloud, Treasure Coast Newspapers; Kimberly Miller, The Palm Beach Post
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tropical storm weather forecast Florida: Isaias could hit this weekend
As the first rains and winds from a potential tropical storm hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday afternoon, many on the island were figuring out their last-minute preparations.
Gas stations in San Juan had more customers than usual as people filled up their cars. At one garage, a man stored a yellow gasoline-powered generator, the kind used to power essentials such as fridges, in the back of his van. People crowded supermarkets to buy food and other supplies. The streets of La Milla de Oro, a financial district, were mostly empty. Plaza Las Américas, the Caribbean’s largest mall, was slated to close at 5 p.m.
As of Wednesday, Puerto Rico is no longer in the path of potential Tropical Storm Isaias, although tropical storm conditions are “likely” through the night. The weather system has struggled to morph into a storm due to several factors, ranging from its large size to dry winds and clouds of Sahara dust. But even though the tropical system does not present anywhere near the threat of a monster storm such as Hurricane Maria did in 2017, many Puerto Ricans still felt anxious and nervous. Community leaders reassured people, saying they are more prepared than they were three years ago.
Maria left an indelible mark on how Puerto Ricans think about, experience, and prepare for storms and hurricanes. A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey conducted a year after Hurricane Maria found that 9 percent of all Puerto Ricans surveyed reported receiving mental health help as a result of the storm. In a study that surveyed around 96,000 Puerto Rican schoolchildren, 45.7 percent reported damage to their own homes, and 7.2 percent exhibited “clinically significant” symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
On Wednesday, “PTSD” was a trending topic on Twitter in Puerto Rico, with over 20,000 tweets that included the word.
Three community leaders across Puerto Rico spoke to the Miami Herald about how their neighborhoods, communities and towns have prepared for the storm. They spoke about the psychological impact that Hurricane Maria had, but also highlighted the deep resilience and self-reliance their communities had developed after the hurricane. And all three spoke about how, in the wake of perceived government abandonment and neglect, individuals, communities, and groups prepared for natural disasters like this.
‘Anxiety that has not ended’
Mark Martin Bras lives in Vieques, an island municipality of the Puerto Rican archipelago that Hurricane Maria ravaged. The municipality’s electrical grid was still dependent on generators for over a year after the storm. Its hospital, destroyed by the hurricane, is still not operational.
Martin Bras, who has lived in Vieques for over two decades, is a board member of Vieques Love, a nonprofit created after Hurricane Maria when the need for better infrastructure and services in the town became apparent. The organization provides immediate relief and fosters community development. It also works closely with the local and state government.
Martin Bras said that even if people were nervous, the community was more prepared now to weather storms.
“There wasn’t chaos or long lines” at supermarkets, pharmacies, or gas stations, he said.
Martin Bras told the Herald that since Maria, community organizations have pushed efforts to make the island more resilient and ready for disasters. Vieques, which was largely cut off from the world after Maria, now has a robust radio communication network of community groups in place.
“We are connected to the Virgin Islands, to mainland Puerto Rico, to different official agencies … all connected to a network that allows us to communicate … which didn’t exist before Maria,” he said. “It’s like night and day.”
He also added that the island now has three “resiliency centers,” which cannot shelter people, but provide water, food, communications, and first aid supplies. Still, Martin Bras said, much needs to be done when it comes to infrastructure and public services such as water, electricity, and medical services.
“The necessary changes have not been made for this island to be functional. Not even talking about emergencies and disasters,” he said. These bigger infrastructure issues cause the community a lot of anxiety, especially during hurricane season.
“Maria created anxiety that has not ended,” said Martin Bras. “It would be much easier to fix that anxiety if we knew we were going to be as taken care of as well as other municipalities on the island,” he added, alluding to Vieques’ geographic isolation and limited resources compared to other Puerto Rican towns.
‘We have learned with the passage of time’
Jessica Rotger Muller, a 44-year-old mother of seven, is a community leader in Barrio Amelia in a municipality on the northern coast of the island, Cataño. She described her community as tightly knit, a place that when the need arises, “everyone helps each other.”
Like Martin Bras, Rotger Muller said that she thought her community was “more aware” and better prepared for potential storm Isaias as well as the 2020 hurricane season.
“I think we have more knowledge about how these [storms] can affect us and how we can respond,” she said. She also noted that a lot of people were preparing for the storm at the San Juan-area Walmart and Sam’s Club, where she went on Wednesday to purchase items at the last minute.
“A storm is coming tomorrow, and tomorrow you can come by the neighborhood and you will notice that the areas are flooded because they are in flood zones. However, the sewers are clean, there are no people outside, and there is no garbage outside the houses,” Rotger Muller said. “You can see that we have learned with the passage of time.”
Rotger Muller said that Hurricane Maria had greatly affected her neighborhood and her family. She suffered damage to her home, which she had moved into two weeks before, right before Hurricane Irma grazed Puerto Rico. She lost her stove, her fridge, the furniture of one of her rooms, and a fence in her yard. Rotger Muller was grateful there wasn’t more damage.
Her family is close, so they didn’t find it difficult to pass the time playing games or sitting outside their door laughing and making jokes. Still, according to Rotger Muller, her family was the last in Barrio Amelia to be plugged back into the electrical grid. It was difficult for her youngest son to see their neighbors have electricity while they spent more days in darkness.
“I don’t care how insignificant an atmospheric event might be, we were marked by Maria,” she said. “And during hurricane season, people still talk about their experiences” with the hurricane.
‘We know who our neighbors are’
In Loiza, a northeastern coastal town that is home to one of Puerto Rico’s largest Black communities, Maricruz Rivera Clemente could hear the strong gusts of winds and rain Wednesday against the windows and doors of her home.
Rivera Clemente is a community leader of Piñones, a beachfront barrio of Loiza. She is also the founder of Corporación Piñones Se Integra, COPI, a local community group that promotes Puerto Rico’s Black heritage and is dedicated to preserving the municipality’s nature and ecosystems.
Since June, COPI has been cleaning the Torrecilla Canal, which connects the Piñones Lagoon and the Torrecilla Lagoon. Hurricane Maria filled the Torrecilla Canal to the brim with fallen mangroves, broken tree limbs, and other debris. The six-person strong brigade has cleaned around 200 meters of the canal. They have been cutting fallen trees in the canal as well as trimming trees on its shores to ensure that the water flows. Cleaning the canal is essential because when it gets clogged, the waters can overflow and inundate Piñones.
Like the Vieques and Cataño community leaders, Rivera Clemente emphasized the self-reliance and strong survival skills of her neighborhood and town. Hurricane Maria was the best illustration, she said, that the local and federal government cannot respond to the needs of its citizens in times of disaster.
“Because of that absence of resources and commitment on behalf of the government, in Piñones we have always done things without the government,” she said. “What resources we do have, we fought for, but we don’t stop. We search for resources, we invent them, we make them.”
This self-management was not unique to Loiza and Piñones, Rivera Clemente said. Communities across Puerto Rico had to figure out how to move forward on their own. She said that Hurricane Maria’s legacy is still felt today.
“Some people were left with a great emptiness. Hurricane Maria affected us not only physically, but emotionally,” she said.
The community leader added that Piñones’ location, in the middle of a mangrove forest, protected the neighborhood from flooding and wind, and made people feel more secure.
But more than anything, she said, people in the community know they can rely on each other. Rivera Clemente said that she has been regularly in touch with other community leaders across Loiza to see how prepared their communities were for the coming storm and to check in on how they were feeling.
“We identify people who are in need and distribute help. … We know who our neighbors are,” she said. “We are able to get out of difficult situations and [we are] triumphant because those social dynamics are powerful. Really powerful.”
Starting Thursday at 5 p.m., the state of Florida will temporarily close state-run COVID-19 testing sites „in anticipation of impacts” from a potential tropical storm that’s currentlywith wind and rain. The Florida Division of Emergency Management announced the closure on Wednesday, the same day the state set for single-day coronavirus deaths.
The state runs 162 testing sites in all but two of Florida’s 67 counties, according to the state department of health’s website.
All state-supported testing sites have tents, equipment and other „free standing structures” that are not able to withstand tropical storm force winds, the department said in a press release. If those objects are lifted during the storm, they „could cause damage to people and property if not secured.”
The department said the sites will remain closed until they can safely be reopened, but added that all are expected to reopen by August 5 at the latest.
In a series of tweets, the department encouraged people with coronavirus symptoms to „receive a self-swab test at state-supported drive-thru sites” prior to the closings, adding that those people „will be prioritized” and will receive their results within 72 hours.
County health departments will continue to offer free COVID-19 tests, emergency management said.
(1/2) In anticipation of Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine, all state-supported testing sites will be temporarily closed starting Friday. Sites will begin reopening on Tuesday, with all sites being reopened by Wednesday, Aug. 5 at 8 a.m. Learn more – https://t.co/OmtuDQvB8H
— FL Division of Emergency Management (@FLSERT) July 29, 2020
But some counties are also closing their testing sites. Miami-Dade County, which makes up roughly a quarter of the state’s total coronavirus cases, according to state data, announced that all drive-thru and walk-up testing sites in the county will be closed from Friday „until further notice.” In Palm Beach County, which has the third-highest amount of cases in the state, sites will be closed at least on Friday and Saturday. Some may open again on Monday, depending on the trajectory of the storm, the county website said.
The National Hurricane Center said that the storm is expected to reach the southern part of Florida by Friday night, potentially as a tropical storm.
The storm is predicted to produce heavy wind and rain as it moves through Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and other islands in the Caribbean.
After a two-month stay at the International Space Station, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will soon return to Earth in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft in what will be the first-ever crewed return trip for the vehicle, and the first NASA splashdown in 45 years.
The American space agency is targeting August 1 for the undocking, with the splashdown occurring the following day. But concern over a developing weather system that could cause conditions to deteriorate in the splash zones near Florida may cause the trip to be delayed.
NASA officials discussed the final preparations for the Crew Dragon’s return journey in a meeting on Wednesday, July 30. They’re currently examining a potential tropical cyclone that’s developing in the Caribbean, which, if it comes to fruition, would likely prompt NASA to wait for calmer conditions to prevail.
“The wind speed can’t be any greater than 15 feet per second or about 10 miles per hour,” Steve Stich, commercial crew program manager, said on Wednesday. “This is to protect how the vehicle lands in the water and how the water will come up and surround the vehicle at touchdown.”
Stich added: “We don’t want any rain in the area, we don’t want the parachutes or the vehicle to get rained on [and we don’t want] any lightning.”
After landing in the water, a recovery ship will hoist the Crew Dragon onto the main deck before opening the hatch to allow the astronauts to exit the capsule. A helicopter will then fly the two astronauts from the ship to the shore.
The operation also means that conditions have to be clear and calm for the helicopter pilot tasked with flying Hurley and Behnken back to land. Bad weather could mean poor visibility, and if the ship’s deck is moving around too much in the water, the helicopter won’t be able to land.
Stich said that if the weather begins to look particularly troublesome, then they won’t even think about undocking on Saturday.
“The beauty of this vehicle is that we can stay docked to the space station … and wait for the weather to clear,” he said.
Ahead of the trip back to Earth, Behnken tweeted a photo (below) of the SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle docked with the ISS, commenting that his family is very much looking forward to his homecoming.
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The summer’s third and final mission to Mars — featuring NASA’s most elaborate life-hunting rover — is on the verge of liftoff.
The rover Perseverance will follow China’s rover-orbiter combo and a United Arab Emirates orbiter, both launched last week. It will take the spacecraft seven months to reach Mars after traveling 300 million miles.
Once on the surface, Perseverance will scrounge for evidence of past microscopic life in an ancient lakebed, and gather the most promising rock samples for future pickup. NASA is teaming up with the European Space Agency to return the samples to Earth around 2031.
This unprecedented effort will involve multiple launches and spacecraft — and cost more than $8 billion.
“We don’t know if life existed there or not. But we do know that Mars at one point in its history was habitable,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said on the eve of launch.
The U.S. remains the only country to land successfully at Mars. If all goes well next February, Perseverance will become the ninth U.S. spacecraft to operate on the Martian surface.
First things first, though: Good flying weather is forecast for United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket. The Denver-based rocket maker and its heritage companies have launched all of NASA’s Mars missions, beginning with the Mariners in 1964.
ULA chief executive Tory Bruno said Perseverance is arguably the most sophisticated and most exciting of all the Mars missions.
“We are literally chomping at the bit to take this nuclear-powered dune buggy out to Mars,” he said earlier this week.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
By Joey Roulette
(Reuters) – NASA is set to launch an ambitious mission to Mars on Thursday with the liftoff of its next-generation Perseverance rover, a six-wheeled robot tasked with deploying a mini helicopter, testing out equipment for future human missions and searching for traces of past Martian life.
The $2.4 billion mission, slated for liftoff at 7:50 a.m. ET (1150 GMT) from Florida’s Cape Canaveral, is planned as the U.S. space agency’s ninth trek to the Martian surface. The United Arab Emirates and China separately this month launched probes to Mars in displays of their own technological prowess and ambition.
Launching atop an Atlas 5 rocket from the Boeing-Lockheed <BA.N> <LMT.N> joint venture United Launch Alliance, the car-sized Perseverance rover is expected to reach Mars next February. It is due to land at the base of an 820-foot-deep (250 meters) crater called Jezero, a former lake from 3.5 billion years ago that scientists believe could hold traces of potential past microbial Martian life.
„This is unlike any robot that we’ve sent to Mars before because it has the purpose of astrobiology,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told Reuters in an interview. „We are trying to find evidence of ancient life on another world.”
The rover will attempt for the first time to bring Martian rock samples back to Earth, collecting materials in cigar-sized capsules and leaving them scattered on the surface for retrieval by a future „fetch” rover. That conceptual rover is expected to launch the samples back into space to link up with other spacecraft for an eventual Earth homecoming around 2031.
Also aboard Perseverance is a four-pound (1.8 kg) autonomous helicopter called Ingenuity that is due to test powered flight on Mars for the first time. Bridenstine said he can imagine a day when NASA places a robot on Mars that can deploy perhaps a dozen different helicopters for exploration.
Since NASA’s first Mars rover Sojourner landed in 1997, the agency has sent two others – Spirit and Opportunity – that have revealed the geology of vast Martian plains and found evidence of past water formations, among other discoveries. NASA also has successfully sent three landers – Pathfinder, Phoenix, InSight.
„We know that we’re going to make discoveries with the Mars Perseverance rover that are going to make us ask a whole lot more questions, just like every previous discovery,” Bridenstine told Reuters.
The United States has plans to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s under its Artemis program, which envisions using a return to the moon as a testing platform for human missions before making the bigger leap to Mars.
Perseverance will carry out an experiment to convert elements of the carbon dioxide-rich Martian atmosphere into propellant for future rockets launching off the planet’s surface, or to produce breathable oxygen for future astronauts.
„There’s a lot of things that we need to be able to develop and discover,” Bridenstine said, „so that when we get to Mars we can actually survive for long periods of time.”
One of the most complex maneuvers in Perseverance’s journey will be what mission engineers call the „seven minutes of terror,” when the robot endures extreme heat and speeds during its descent through the Martian atmosphere, deploying a set of supersonic parachutes before igniting mini rocket engines to gently touch down on the planet’s surface.
(Reporting by Joey Roulette in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham)