In a National Hurricane Center report released last week on Hurricane Harvey,which hit Texas in August as a Category 4 storm, officials lament the 65 lives lost to freshwater flooding but tout the lack of storm surge deaths even as up to 10 feet of hurricane-driven saltwater charged ashore.
But it wasn’t just Harvey. Hurricane center officials said no storm surge deaths are believed to have occurred in hurricanes Irma or Maria — both Category 4s — or Category 1 Hurricane Nate, which landed near Biloxi, Miss. on Oct. 8.
The lack of storm surge deaths is being attributed by the NHC to its new storm surge watch and warning system, which debuted operationally with Harvey. While the system is not yet used in Puerto Rico, emergency managers had hurricane center-provided maps in order to make evacuation decisions based on storm surge.
“We can argue that what caused it was luck, chance, geography, but you would be hard pressed to convince me it happened by itself,” said NHC storm surge specialist Jamie Rhome about the absence of storm surge deaths. “Somewhere along the way, this 10-year effort moved the needle.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”