The storm that keeps trying to be a hurricane
Tropical Storm Fay rolled ashore in southwestern Florida on Tuesday with little fanfare but hung around like an unwelcome houseguest, maintaining strength and still threatening to become a hurricane.
The storm first hit the Florida Keys, veered out to sea and then traversed east across the state on a path that would curve it toward the Florida-Georgia border. Fay’s failure to weaken meant a whole new swath of the state had to prepare for a worse storm, and meant Florida could be pummeled three separate times.
“This storm is going to be with us for a while. That’s obvious now. It looks it could be a boomerang storm,” Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said at a news conference.
Earlier in the day, it had appeared that Fay would peter out and perhaps bring nothing but heavy rains to the southeastern United States. But by late Tuesday, a hurricane watch was posted for parts of north Florida and Georgia as Fay seemed to be resurrected by the Everglades, increasing the chances that it could strengthen into a hurricane. Its top sustained winds increased for several hours during the day and peaked at 65 mph, before dropping to 50 mph late Tuesday. A hurricane has winds of at least 74 mph.
Forecasters expected the storm to get a dose of energy today when it moved over the Atlantic Ocean, where it could reach hurricane strength.
Eric Blake, a specialist at the National Hurricane Center, urged people not to focus on whether Fay was a tropical storm or a hurricane because either can cause damage.
“A strong tropical storm can be very significant,” he said, pointing to wind damage in the state’s interior and the possibility of flooding from up to 15 inches of rain expected in parts of central Florida.
Fay formed over the weekend in the Atlantic and was blamed for 14 deaths in the Caribbean.
Though the storm flooded streets in Naples, downed trees and plunged 95,000 homes and businesses into the dark, most Floridians thought they had dodged a bullet. The worst appeared to be 51 homes hit by a tornado in Brevard County, southeast of Orlando. Nine homes were totaled, said Brevard County Emergency Operations Center spokesman David Waters.
Brevard County sheriff’s deputies arrested three men on suspicion of looting in a mobile home park, where a trapper was called to remove a wandering alligator.
Two injuries were reported in the Brevard County tornado, and a kitesurfer who was caught in a gust of wind Monday was critically injured when he slammed into a building in front of the beach near Fort Lauderdale. Kevin Kearney, 28, remained in critical condition Tuesday, Broward General Medical Center officials and his family said.
The storm’s surprising path came after Florida officials pulled out all the stops to get ready, prompting some grousing among residents that they had overreacted to what was expected to be a minor storm. Crist declared a state of emergency two days before the storm arrived, schools closed well in advance of the rain and 25,000 tourists in the Florida Keys were told to pack up their beach blankets and go home.
State officials defended the preparations Tuesday.
“I don’t know how that can be considered alarmist when we’re just really trying to tell people, ‘This is Florida, you got a system out there, you’ve got to respect it, you’ve got to get ready,’ ” said Craig Fugate, the state’s emergency management director.