Hurricane and tropical storm watches issued for Florida’s Gulf coast

Update 5 p.m.: The National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane watch for areas of the Florida Gulf coast from Anclote River to Indian Pass.

A tropical storm watch has been issued for areas west of Indian Pass to the Walton and Bay county line.

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The watches were issued despite the system still not becoming better organized and with limited evidence of banding features.

Official wind measurements remain at 35 mph.

But National Hurricane Center forecasters said a few of the computer models now turn tropical depression nine into a hurricane so the decision was made to issue a hurricane watch.

“It is important not to focus on the forecast landfall point of this system,” forecasters wrote. “Among other reasons, dangerous storm surge flooding is likely along the coast well to the east and south of the path of the center.”

New storm surge inundation maps can be found here. 

The storm is expected to make landfall somewhere in the Big Bend region on Thursday. The official forecast sets the winds at 65 mph.

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Update 2:15 p.m.: A flood watch has been issued for coastal areas of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties by the National Weather Service in Miami.

Forecasters said deep moisture being pulled in from tropical depression 9 will continue to spread through Wednesday morning with the potential for flooding as squall lines trail through the area.

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A flood watch means there is a potential for flooding based on current forecasts. The watch is in effect through Wednesday morning.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

Update 2:10 p.m.: The National Weather Service in Miami has issued a flood advisory for areas in northeastern Palm Beach County.

Forecasters said they were tracking heavy rain from thunderstorms that could cause minor flooding. Up to three inches of rain has already fallen in some areas, according to the NWS.

Areas that could experience flooding are West Palm Beach, Wellington, Palm Beach Gardens, Riviera Beach and Greenacres.

Another 1 to 3 inches of rain is expected in Palm Beach County.

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Update 1:05 p.m.: Intermittent showers are dousing South Florida coast to coast with areas southwest Collier County and Marco Island under a flood advisory.

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Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

Palm Beach County is dotted with downpours including in Jupiter Farms where dark clouds are looking ominous. Rainfall as much as one inch per hour is possible in areas, NWS forecasters in Miami said.

The Weather Prediction Center has parts of northern Palm Beach County and areas surrounding Lake Okeechobee under a moderate threat for excessive rains today that could lead to flooding.

A significant weather advisory was issued by the National Weather Service for Monroe and Miami-Dade counties as thunderstorms threaten wind gusts up to 55 mph.

Update 11 a.m.: Tropical depression nine is still expected to strengthen some today and the National Hurricane Center said it will likely issue a tropical storm watch later today.

As of the 11 a.m. advisory, winds were still 35 mph, 4 mph short of a tropical storm.

See incredible images of tropical depression nine from Hurricane Hunters. 

While thunderstorm activity has increased, the organization of the system has not changed much since last night, forecasters said.

“Another NOAA Hurricane Hunter Aircraft is scheduled to investigate the cyclone this afternoon to see if the depression has become a tropical storm,” the 11 a.m. discussion says.

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The National Hurricane Center has also issued potential storm surge flooding maps for Florida’s Big Bend region. The maps are a new product being used operationally for the first time with this storm, said NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen.

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  • Tropical depression 8 remains disorganized as of the 11 a.m. update and has maintained a wind speed of 35 mph, just under tropical storm strength. As the system moves closer to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, it is expected to strengthen some. The track of the system was shifted a little west this morning, putting it slightly closer to the Outer Banks, but it is still expected to make a hard north turn before landfall.
NHC official storm track as of 11 a.m. Aug. 30, 2016.
NHC official storm track for tropical depression eight as of 11 a.m. Aug. 30, 2016.

Previous story: Tropical depression nine was finishing its trek through the Florida Straits early this morning with winds of 35 mph, and is expected to become a tropical storm today.

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As of the 5 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center, the system is expected to track west-northwest today and turn more to the north tonight.

A tropical storm or hurricane watch may be issued today for part of Florida’s Gulf coast, the center said.

Watch The Palm Beach Post interactive tracking map for latest updates. 

Hurricane center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said a hurricane watch could be issued if there is uncertainty in the intensity forecast when a strong tropical storm is in an environment that might allow for enough strengthening to push it to hurricane strength. It means winds of hurricane force would be possible.

If tropical depression nine gains tropical storm status it would be Hermine or Ian, depending on if it does so before tropical depression eight, which is off the coast of North Carolina.

Regardless of strengthening, TD 9 is expected to bring heavy rain to South Florida. Palm Beach County could expect 2.75 to 5 inches of rain through Thursday, and northern areas of the county were upgraded this morning to a “moderate” risk of excessive rain by the Weather Prediction Center.

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“The stage is set for widespread moderate to heavy rains for Central to South Florida,” Weather Prediction Center forecasters wrote in their morning discussion. “High resolution guidance is very wet, showing either stripes of 7+ totals…..or local maxima of 5-7 inches.”

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The National Weather Service in Miami said this morning precipitable water values are near record high for this date at 2.45 inches – meaning if all the moisture in the air column fell at once, it would equal 2.45 inches.

“Numerous showers and gusty squalls” are expected throughout the day with the potential for trailing rain bands to dump several inches in localized areas.

As tropical depression nine moves further away from Cuba, winds will turn more southerly with a breeze of 10 to 20 mph and higher gusts, NWS forecasters said.

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For Palm Beach County, gusty winds up to 40 to 50 mph are also possible today, according to the National Weather Service in Miami. An alert for a high risk of rip currents is in effect.

Rain chances in West Palm Beach are 90 percent today.

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  • Tropical depression eight, which is 95 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, has maximum sustained winds of 35 mph and its center will be near the Outer Banks this afternoon or evening. The system could become a tropical storm later today, but tropical storm warnings have already been issued for areas of North Carolina from Cape Lookout to Oregon Inlet and Pamlico Sound.

An Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter is investigating the depression this morning.

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  • Hurricane Gaston, which is no threat to land, has 100 mph winds and is heading northeast at 6 mph. Little change in strength is expected over the next two days as it moves further out to sea.

In Florida,  a stretch of the state from Sarasota to near Panama City is in the cone of tropical depression nine. It’s a similar area targeted by Tropical Storm Colin in June.

“Right now we’re thinking this will mostly be a big rain producer for the northwest and northern part of the peninsula,” said Dan Kottlowski, hurricane expert with the Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather. “It’s still fighting wind shear and there is a large area of dry air to its north, but it will soon be over very warm water with less shear.”

Low clouds hang over the Intracoastal waterway in West Palm Beach courtesy of TD9. Kimberly miller
Low clouds hang over the Intracoastal waterway in West Palm Beach courtesy of TD9 on Aug. 30 2016. Photo by Kimberly miller

The National Weather Service in Tampa, issued a flood warning for the Myakka River this morning.

The system is expected to maintain tropical storm strength as it moves through Florida. The center of its track then takes it out into the Atlantic, but the northern edge of the cone skims the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Tyler Fleming, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tampa, said the area is bracing for 8 inches of rain or more over the next five days.

“We’re also looking for tides to be 1 to 3 feet above normal and some coastal flooding,” said Fleming, who didn’t want to compare the coming system to Colin. “Every storm is going to be unique.”

The National Hurricane Center has issued its new potential storm surge flooding map for the Big Bend region.

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The actual areas that could become flooded may differ from the areas shown on this map. This map accounts for tides, but not waves and not flooding caused by rainfall.

 

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Sugar growers say Negron’s Lake Okeechobee plan was a surprise

Senate President-designate Joe Negron’s announcement Tuesday promoting a plan to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee to store excess water was a surprise to the land owners, according to Florida Crystals, which owns about 60 percent of the properties identified.

In a statement, Florida Crystals said Negron met with a water management consultant for the company on Thursday, but that Tuesday’s proposal was not part of the discussion.

Negron said Tuesday that he talked to the land owners and briefed “them on the plan that I’m putting forward.”

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

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“Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative, whose growers’ land falls within the general footprints shown on the map today, was not invited by the Senator,” a joint statement from Florida Crystals and the cooperative reads.

Negron’s office said a senior policy advisor did reach out several times in early June to the cooperative but messages left were not returned.

Negron identified two parcels of land, both about 60,000 acres each and mostly in Palm Beach County, as areas that could become reservoirs to store excess Lake Okeechobee water instead of sending it into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

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Negron said just one parcel is needed to store 120 billion gallons of water.

For more details on Negron’s plan read the story in today’s Palm Beach Post. 

Beginning in February, billions of gallons per day of lake water has been discharged into the fragile estuaries, damaging brackish-water ecosystems and seeding an extensive algae bloom in June and July.

At one point earlier in the year, the Caloosahatchee was getting 4.2 billion gallons per day of lake water, while the St. Lucie was receiving 1.8 billion gallons.

The flows have since been decreased to 420 million gallons per day into the St. Lucie estuary and 1.8 billion into the Caloosahatchee.

But land owners south of the lake aren’t sure about Negron’s plan.

“Taking another 60,000 acres of productive and sustainable farmland out of the EAA will without a doubt close down our sugar mill and put us out of business,” said Barbara Miedema, vice president of Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, who said she never got a message that Negron’s office wanted to meet with her. “Sen. Negron’s plan means losing a thousand or more jobs in the Glades communities, not to mention the impact to businesses in the community that provide services to us.”

And some question the feasibility of the $2.4 billion plan, which would mean bonding $100 million in Amendment 1 money and asking the federal government to match the state’s commitment.

The South Florida Water Management District said it did not do the modeling on the land chosen by Negron.

“Everyone is looking for solutions for the system,” Florida Crystals said in a statement. “Our companies strongly support science-based plans that will provide measurable benefits to Lake Okeechobee and the coastal estuaries. Unfortunately, Sen. Negron’s land buy does neither.”

Water is released from Lake Okeechobee through the gates at Port Mayaca into The St. Lucie Canal (C-44). (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)
Water is released from Lake Okeechobee through the gates at Port Mayaca into The St. Lucie Canal (C-44). (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

Negron said he knows it won’t be an easy sell to everyone.

“We have our work cut out for us,” he said Tuesday. “In the world of the legislative process and political process, we are in the persuasion business.”

According to the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser, the county would be out an estimated $1.3 million in taxes per year if 60,000 acres of agricultural land was no longer on the tax rolls.

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No change in flows from Lake Okeechobee

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced this morning there will be no change in discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

Last week, the Corps reduced the flows by more than 40 percent into the St. Lucie Estuary following weeks of concern over a widespread algae bloom in the lake and in the river.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

The lake stands at 14.66 feet today, more than one-tenth of a foot lower than it was last week, the Corps said.

“We are currently seeing a slow recession in the lake as a result of dry conditions,” said Jim Jeffords, Operations Division Chief for the Jacksonville District of the Corps. “However, the lake is still unseasonably high and we need to continue to bring the lake level down.”

The Corps prefers lower levels during rainy season. When too much water is in Lake Okeechobee, it can weaken the aging portions of the Herbert Hoover Dike, which protects Glades’ communities from flooding.

About 420 million gallons per day of Lake Okeechobee water is flowing into the St. Lucie Estuary. The Caloosahatchee is getting about 1.8 billion gallons per day.

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Algae flows out of Lake Okeechobee on Friday, July 8. Photo by Palm Beach Post photographer Joe Forzano
Algae flows out of Lake Okeechobee on Friday, July 8. Photo by Palm Beach Post photographer Joe Forzano

Algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee contains toxins as discharges increase

A large blue-green algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee was found to contain a high level of toxins by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as water releases from the lake more than double into the St. Lucie Estuary.

According to the Florida DEP, water sampled Monday from the lake at the Port Mayaca lock contained 24.4 micrograms per liter of the toxin microcystin.

The World Health Organization says 10 to 20 micrograms per liter is considered a moderate level, with 20 to 2,000 considered high.

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On Monday, water sampled on the canal side of the Port Mayaca lock was found to have 5.1 micrograms per liter of microcystin, which is considered a low level. Of eight areas sampled since May 18, four were found to be toxin free.

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“Although a majority of our testing shows very low toxins in the blue-green algae, we will continue to work with the South Florida Water Management District to monitor the algal blooms to keep Floridians and visitors informed and safe,” said Dee Ann Miller, of the DEP.

The area with the highest level was on the lake side of the Port Mayaca lock.

Miller said the area is non-recreational.

In this 2008 photo, an algae bloom is seen in the Caloosahatchee near Fort Myers.
In this 2008 photo, an algae bloom is seen in the Caloosahatchee near Fort Myers.

“We have shared these results with the Corps and the Florida Department of Health,” she said.

Download the Palm Beach Post WeatherPlus app. 

Concerns about how the algal bloom will impact the ecosystems of the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries heightened Thursday when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would increase discharges from the lake.

Beginning today, 1.1 billion gallons of freshwater per day will be released from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River. That’s an increase from 420 million gallons per day.

The Caloosahatchee Estuary will get 2.5 billion gallons per day, up from 1.2 billion gallons per day.

The corps monitors the level of Lake Okeechobee closely because if it gets too high, it could begin to erode the Herbert Hoover Dike, which protects communities around the lake from flooding. The corps likes to keep the lake between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet above sea level.

On Thursday, the lake was at 14.38 feet, close to a May 2010 high mark of 14.57 feet. Last year, the lake was at 12.65 feet above sea level on June 1.

Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds, who is the Corps’ deputy district commander for South Florida, said she can’t predict how the algae bloom will be affected by the increase in lake discharges.

There is a chance that the algae will be disrupted by turbulence in the water created by the discharges, she said.

“They grow better in fresh water conditions, but turbulent water tends to suppress their reproduction rate so we’re not entirely sure what is going to happen,” Reynolds said Thursday. “Where blooms will appear and become problematic, we don’t have a good way to predict that.”

Palm Beach County catches up on rain, what it means for Lake Okeechobee

Palm Beach County has finally caught up on its March rainfall with the heavy showers and thunderstorms this week.

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As of Wednesday, coastal parts of the county had received 3.5 inches of rain, which is 0.17 more than normal, according to the South Florida Water Management District.

Broward and Miami-Dade counties were below normal as of Wednesday, but nearly 5 inches of rain fell in parts of Broward late Wednesday, which is likely to catch parts of that county up.

While coastal Palm Beach needed the rain, Lake Okeechobee did not. 

Travel magazine wrongly says sludge released into Lake Okeechobee. 

Today, the U.S. Army corps of Engineers said it will maintain the current releases of freshwater from the lake into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

That means the St. Lucie estuary is still getting 1,170 cubic feet per second (cfs), or 756 million gallons per day. That’s down from 3,600 cfs that was being released at the maximum levels.

About 3,000 cubic feet per second, or 2 billion gallons per day, is being released to the west into the Caloosahatchee estuary. That’s down from 5,900 cfs when maximum amounts were flowing.

As of this morning, the lake was at 15.1 feet above sea level, which is slightly higher than on Monday. The corps likes to keep the lake at between 12.5 and 15.5 feet.

With the rainy season on the horizon, the corps fears keeping that lake at maximum levels.

Despite drenching, March rainfall below normal for South Florida

Last week saw strong storms drenching Boca Raton and northern Palm Beach County, but the rain wasn’t enough to bring March up to normal for the month in South Florida.

According to the South Florida Water Management District, 2.10 inches of rain have fallen in coastal areas of Palm Beach County in March, about 73 percent of what is normal for this time of the month.

In the 16-county region that is managed by the district, rainfall is about 1.27 inches, down 55 percent from the historic norm.

Heavy rains flooded the Jupiter West Plaza parking lot in Jupiter causing shoppers to brave high waters on Friday, March 25, 2016. (Daniel Owen / The Palm Beach Post)
Heavy rains flooded the Jupiter West Plaza parking lot in Jupiter causing shoppers to brave high waters on Friday, March 25, 2016. (Daniel Owen / The Palm Beach Post)

And that’s probably a good thing.

For the year, the 16 counties are nearly 7 inches above normal. 

Coastal Palm Beach County is about 5.5 inches above normal.

The extra rainfall spells trouble for water managers who have to figure out where to put it all.

Lake Okeechobee is still above 15 feet and damaging fresh water continues to gush into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

On Thursday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would not reduce releases any further than what it had the previous week. 

Currently, about 756 million gallons per day is flowing into the St. Lucie River. About 2 billion gallons per day is going into the Caloosahatchee.

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But abnormally low rainfall is not what was forecast for this month. The Climate Prediction Center said earlier this year that March would be abnormally rainy in Florida.

“The highest probabilities of increased precipitation are in Florida, where the impacts of El Nino work out with more certainty than other places in the country,” said Climate Prediction Center researcher Huug van den Dool. “March, April and May will be above normal again.”

And March may still be abnormally wet. With four days left in the month, the forecast is for rain every day — chances ranging between 20 percent and 70 percent.

Soggy South Florida sets records for winter rain totals

The National Weather Service issued a sneak peek this morning on it’s December through February weather analysis, releasing rain totals today that are the highest on record or near record-breaking.

At Palm Beach International Airport, 19.9 inches of rain was measured during the past three months, qualifying this meteorological winter as the third wettest winter on record for West Palm Beach.

The record in West Palm Beach is 22.43 inches set in 1998.

Vehicles navigate standing water on Dixie Highway in downtown West Palm Beach during a tornado warning Wednesday morning, January 27, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Vehicles navigate standing water on Dixie Highway in downtown West Palm Beach during a tornado warning Wednesday morning, January 27, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Fort Lauderdale measured 17.07 inches, which is also it’s third wettest winter.

But Miami and Miami Beach both broke their winter rain amounts with 20.26 and 19.15 inches respectively.

It’s no surprise it’s been a soggy few months. South Florida’s water managers have been struggling to find places for all the water that’s fallen.

Read: Sea level rise worst in 3,000 years. 

Lake Okeechobee releases into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries are at full throttle and water is being dumped south from water catchment areas into the Everglades.

On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency over the Lake Okeechobee water releases. Freshwater can damage the marine life that live in the brackish estuaries. Also there is some pollution runoff that comes with the Lake O water.

Dark Lake Okeechobee water seen flowing out of St. Lucie River. Photo provided by the office of U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter.
Dark Lake Okeechobee water seen flowing out of St. Lucie River. Photo provided by the office of U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter.

“The negative effects of flood waters and harm to wildlife we are currently witnessing in these counties is only the beginning,” Scott said in a statement.

The order recognizes “extensive environmental harm to wildlife and the aquatic ecosystem” and “severe economic losses” to businesses that rely on the St. Lucie estuary and the Indian River Lagoon. It authorizes the state’s Division of­ ­Emergency Management to coordinate assistance for the three counties from state and federal agencies.

Dark Lake Okeechobee water seen flowing out of St. Lucie River. Photo by Ed Lippisch, provided by the office of U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter.
Dark Lake Okeechobee water seen flowing out of St. Lucie River. Photo by Ed Lippisch, provided by the office of U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter.

March forecast spells more trouble for Lake Okeechobee

The Climate Prediction Center released its one-month forecast today and it is predicting above normal rain for Florida in March.

With Lake Okeechobee already swollen to uncomfortable levels, more rain will likely mean continued discharges into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

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Despite dumping billions of gallons of water out of the lake, its level was 16.25 feet above sea level on Thursday. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers likes to keep the lake between 12.5 and 15.5 feet.

The South Florida Water Management District is asking the corps to reduce the lake discharges into the St. Lucie River by 50 percent to adhere to a 2008 release schedule.

“Lowering the discharge amounts will reduce the adverse ecological impacts to the estuaries while achieving reasonable water management goals for the lake,” a district statement said.

Dark Lake Okeechobee water seen flowing out of St. Lucie River. Photo by Ed Lippisch, provided by the office of U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter.
Dark Lake Okeechobee water seen flowing out of St. Lucie River. Photo by Ed Lippisch, provided by the office of U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter.

High lake levels could begin to erode the Herbert Hoover Dike, which keeps surrounding communities from flooding.

The South Florida Water Management District says this dry season is one of the wettest on record with 16.22 inches falling in its 16-county region from November through January.

According to the Climate Prediction Center’s forecast, Florida could see 60 percent more rain than normal in March.