Pinellas County officials say hurricane force winds, flooding and loss of power are a possibility as a major hurricane threatens the state of Florida. Residents are advised to plan accordingly.
The National Weather Service says tropical storm conditions are possible in the local area on Labor Day and hurricane conditions are possible starting Monday night through Tuesday night.
Pinellas County Commissioners have scheduled a special meeting at 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, at the Emergency Operations Center, 10750 Ulmerton Road in Largo. The meeting will be broadcast live on PCC-TV and livestreamed at YouTube Channel PCCTV1.
County Administrator Barry Burton plans to ask commissioners to declare a local state of emergency.
A state of emergency provides the county with authority to make decisions quickly as the situation changes.
National Hurricane Center said Friday morning that Hurricane Dorian had slowed. Dorian reached major hurricane status Friday afternoon — a Category 3 with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph.
Dorian is forecast to make landfall as a powerful Category 4 storm with winds of 140 mph Tuesday afternoon somewhere along the east coast. NHC announced that Dorian had strengthened into a Category 4 at 8:30 p.m. Maximum sustained winds had increased to 130 mph.
However, NHC continues to say that the track forecast by the end of the forecast period is “highly uncertain.”
“Any small deviation in the track could bring the core of the powerful hurricane well inland over the Florida, keep it near the coast or offshore,” meteorologists said in the 5 p.m. discussion notes. “The models have not been very consistent from run to run in terms of the timing of the northward turn, but there are more models now indicating that the turn could occur near the east coast of Florida instead of well inland.”
The forecast calls for additional intensification, and Dorian is expected to be an “extremely dangerous major hurricane” as it moves through the northwestern Bahamas and near the east coast of the Florida peninsula in about two to four days.
Meteorologists say a prolonged period of storm surge, high winds and rainfall is possible in portions of Florida into next week, including the possibility of hurricane-force winds over inland portions of the Florida peninsula.
Residents are urged to get their hurricane plans in place, know if they are in a hurricane evacuation zone and listen to advice from local officials.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued an emergency declaration for the entire state.
“Due to Hurricane Dorian’s uncertain projected path, I am expanding the state of emergency to include all 67 counties throughout Florida,” the governor said in a press release. “All residents, especially those along the east coast, need to be prepared for possible impacts. As it increases strength, this storm has the potential to severely damage homes, businesses and buildings, which is why all Floridians should remain vigilant. Do not wait until it is too late to make a plan.”
Reports were coming in Thursday afternoon of bare shelves at local grocery stores and water shortages. Many gas stations had lines as people filled up ahead of the possible tropical weather. AAA was reporting gas shortages occurring throughout the state.
Pinellas County announced Friday afternoon that it was preparing for an extended storm with hurricane force winds and flooding a possibility. Officials said regardless of Hurricane Dorian’s eventual track, high winds, rain and flooding might affect Pinellas County residents for several days. Residents should prepare for loss of power.
The Citizen Information Center is open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Since Thursday, 750 residents have called to ask for help with hurricane preparedness information. Call 727-464-4333 if you need assistance. The Emergency Operations Center also is operating from 7 a.m.-8 p.m.
The National Weather Service predicts that tropical storm conditions are possible in Pinellas County and Tampa Bay on Labor Day and hurricane conditions are likely on Monday night and Tuesday, bringing the potential for high winds, heavy rains and flooding. Latest projections show the possibility of up to 6-inches of rain or more.
NHC‘s tropical-storm-force wind speed probability map shows a 70% chance of wind impacts to Tampa Bay and Pinellas. The “earliest reasonable arrival time” of tropical storm winds is forecast to be sometime Monday morning.
PSTA makes plans
Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is preparing for Hurricane Dorian. Bus service is scheduled to remain open, unless winds reach 40 mph.
“The safety of our drivers and passengers is always our top priority at PSTA. We are committed to providing service, as long as it’s safe to do so. As we keep a close watch on Hurricane Dorian’s path, we will continue to send updates right away to keep our community informed,” PSTA CEO Brad Miller said.
PSTA will update the local media about the status of service. Riders can also find the latest information by calling the InfoLine at 727-540-1900 or by visiting PSTA’s Facebook and Twitter feeds at Ride PSTA. PSTA will resume service as soon as possible after the storm passes.
If a hurricane evacuation were to occur, PSTA will work with Pinellas County Emergency Management to provide free bus transportation to designated shelters. Residents can view a list of shelters and routes at www.pinellascounty.org/emergency/shelters.htm
There are also several locations where passengers can transfer and ride to a shelter with available space. The transfer locations are Park Street Terminal, Grand Central Station, Westfield Countryside Mall, Tyrone Square Mall and Pinellas Park Transit Center.
Pets will be permitted on evacuation buses as long as they are in a pet carrier. Passengers who plan to evacuate to a shelter that accepts pets must pre-register with Pinellas County Animal Services by calling 727-582-2600.
Residents who need transportation to a “special needs” shelter must pre-register with Pinellas County Emergency Management by calling 727-464-3800. Call your nearest fire department or home healthcare provider or submit a form online. No fares will be charged for evacuation services.
Pinellas County has sandbags available in three unincorporated areas. Sandbags will be available from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday-Sunday or as long as supplies last. Sandbags are limited to 20 per person. Materials will be supplied, and shovels will be available. Staff will be available to assist residents that need help.
Sandbags are available at John Chesnut Sr. Park, 2200 East Lake Road in Palm Harbor, Walsingham Park, 12615 102nd Ave. N. in Largo and Lealman Exchange, 5175 45th St. N. in St. Petersburg.
The city of Pinellas Park has opened multiple self-service sandbag sites for residents only. Residents can get up to 10 sandbags each. Residents must show a water bill and/or valid driver's license indicating they are a resident of Pinellas Park in order to receive their sandbags.
Sandbags are available at Helen Hogarth Park, 6401 94th Ave N., on Friday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Pine brook Park, 7202 118th Ave N., on Friday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; and Broderick Park, 6101 66th Ave N., on Friday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Times also have been extended to include Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Pinellas Park also asks its residents to help limit potential sewage issues from Dorian by taking fewer showers and refraining from doing laundry. Residents also are reminded to secure outdoor materials that could become debris in high winds. For more information about sandbags, call 727-369-5617.
The city of Madeira Beach has activated a self-serve sandbag station at Archibald Memorial Beach Park, 15100 Gulf Blvd. The self-serve sandbag station is available 24 hours day. Madeira Beach Public Works staff will be available to assist those unable to fill or lift sandbags into their vehicle each day from 7 a.m. - 6 p.m.
The sandbag station will remain open in advance of Hurricane Dorian, which is currently forecast to make landfall on Florida’s east coast late Sunday or early Monday. For more information, call Curt Presser, public information officer at 727-391-9951, ext. 299 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Sandbag Station for Oldsmar residents and businesses will open on Friday, Aug. 30, at noon, in the east parking lot of City Hall, 100 State Street West. Sandbags also will be available Saturday, Aug. 31, and Sunday, Sept. 1, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Limit is 15 bags per address. Photo ID or Oldsmar utility bill required. You will need to fill your own bags and transport to your vehicle. Bring assistance if needed. For more information, call 813-749-1136.
The city of Dunedin will have a sandbag distribution center for residents and business owners behind Fire Station 61 at 903 Michigan Blvd. It will be open Friday, Aug. 30, from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 7a.m.-7 p.m., weather permitting. Limit is15 bags per vehicle. Proof of residency or business address required.
As of 5 p.m. Aug. 30, Dorian was located about 420 miles east of the northwestern Bahamas and 595 miles east of West Palm Beach, Florida. Maximum sustained winds were 115 mph. Dorian was moving west northwest at 9 mph.
NHC says Dorian is moving to the northwest, and a slower west northwestward to westward motion is expected to begin tonight and continue through early next week.
The core of Dorian is expected to move over the Atlantic north of the southeastern and central Bahamas today and tomorrow and be near or over northwestern Bahamas on Sunday. Dorian is expected to then move near the Florida east coast by late Monday.
A hurricane warning is in effect for northwestern Bahamas, excluding Andros Island, which is under a hurricane Andros Island.
Dorian is currently a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. The intensity forecast call for maximum winds of 140 mph. According to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, a Category 4 hurricane has winds of 130-156 mph.
Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 30 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 115 miles.
Pinellas County officials are encouraging residents to finalize hurricane preparations not just for Dorian but because September is historically the most active month of the hurricane season.
Residents and businesses are urged to make sure they are following the three critical steps: Know your Risk, Make a Plan and Stay Informed. Registering for Alert Pinellas and downloading the Ready Pinellas app for iPhone and Android will help with the process.
Sunday, Sept. 1 marks the first day of National Preparedness Month, sponsored by FEMA to promote family and community disaster planning.
“It is important for everyone to be prepared in case our area is impacted by a hurricane this season,” said Cathie Perkins, Pinellas County Emergency Management Director. “This is the perfect time to look up your evacuation zone, get whatever supplies are needed to complete emergency Go Kits and Stay Kits and sign up for Alert Pinellas.”
The county’s free mobile application, Ready Pinellas, will help you create a personalized supply list to help you keep track of the supplies you need to finish a kit. You should gather enough supplies to last seven days.
Some essential items include:
• Water – at least 1 gallon of water per person per day
• Non-perishable food
• Non-electric can opener
• Medications and copies of prescriptions (you can get a 30-day refill once an Emergency Declaration is declared for Pinellas County.)
• Flashlight or lantern
• Battery-operated or hand-cranked radio
• Cell phone with charger, extra battery and solar charger
• Contacts in mobile device and in print for backup
• Extra batteries
• Insect repellant
• First aid supplies
• Portable toilet
• Books, cards, board games
• Full tank of gas in vehicle
• Gas tank; extra gas if you have a generator
• Emergency Access Permit (for beach residents and businesses. Obtain one at city halls or online at pcsoweb.com/emergency-access-permit.)
For more information on disaster preparedness, visit the Pinellas County Emergency Management website at www.pinellascounty.org/emergency, or email to email@example.com. The county sends urgent safety notification through Alert Pinellas. Residents can sign up at www.pinellascounty.org/alertpinellas.
Register for special needs shelters by calling the Citizens Information Center at 727-464-4333 or by contacting local fire department. Visit www.pinellascounty.org/emergency/specialneeds.htm for more information.
Mobile and manufactured homes residents must prepare to always evacuate when an evacuation is ordered. Mobile homes, manufactured homes and recreational vehicles are not strong enough to withstand the strong winds of a hurricane.
Sign up for pet shelters now by visiting www.pinellascounty.org/emergency/petpreparedness.
In addition, residents should clear their yards and patios of debris or loose items that could become projectiles in high winds. Such items should be secured or placed in a protected building or structure.
Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County urges residents to refill their prescription medications. It is not known how the hurricane will affect the region, but it’s important to make sure required prescription medication is available.
Prepare now is the message of the day.
• The city of Clearwater has canceled a work session scheduled on Tuesday, Sept. 3. Agenda items will be moved to the Sept. 5 meeting.
• The city of Oldsmar has canceled its meeting scheduled on Tuesday, Sept. 3. It has been rescheduled to Wednesday, Sept. 11.
• The Wounded Warriors Abilities Ranch annual Alive Day had been canceled and rescheduled for Saturday, Sept. 14, 9 a.m.
Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.