Twenty-nine counties along the Gulf Coast and in North Florida were put under a state of emergency Thursday, as Florida prepares to feel impacts from Tropical Storm Nate, which was moving across northeastern Nicaragua.
Gov. Rick Scott said he issued the broad emergency declaration because the path of the storm remains unknown.
Still, parts of Florida, particularly in the western Panhandle and the Big Bend region, should brace for high winds, rains, storm surges and the potential for tornadoes over the weekend.
“It seems like this is going to impact all the counties that didn't have major impact from (Hurricane) Irma,” Scott said during a press briefing at the Bay County Emergency Operation Center.
The National Hurricane Center indicated Nate, with 40 mph maximum sustained winds as of 2 p.m., was moving to the northwest at 9 mph. Mexico has issued a tropical storm warning for the Yucatan Peninsula.
Nate is forecast to reach the northern Gulf Coast this weekend as a Category 1 hurricane, with residents from Louisiana through the Florida Panhandle advised to monitor its progress.
After reviewing the 2 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center, Florida State University Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Stan Wilcox released a statement that “the Florida State vs. Miami football game will kick off as scheduled at 3:30 p.m. EDT” on Saturday in Tallahassee.
The Legislature is scheduled to begin a committee week Monday in Tallahassee, and no changes had been announced.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, whose office Wednesday released a preliminary report estimating the agriculture industry suffered $2.5 billion in damages from Hurricane Irma, advised people Thursday not to become complacent.
“There have been many years where Florida has had multiple storms in one hurricane season,” Putnam said. “So don't think we've already checked the box for 2017.”
Florida went more than a decade without a direct hit by a hurricane but in the past 13 months has felt the impact of three named storms, including Irma.
Scott said the state of emergency will allow counties to work with each other, the state and federal governments to ensure needed resources are available for the possible impacts of the storm.
The measure would also allow for tolls to be lifted, the suspension of state entry rules on commercial vehicles involved in relief efforts and for local governments to waive rules regarding contracts and the hiring of temporary and full-time employees.
With seaports, utilities and the state Department of Transportation monitoring the storm, Scott said up to 7,000 members of the Florida National Guard are available for deployment.
The state has about 400 guard members assisting with the removal of debris from Irma in the Keys.
Scott said preparations are needed as Nate could stall in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, intensifying and changing course.
“In Florida, we always prepare for the worst,” Scott said. “While the track seems to be shifting west, we can't take any chances.”
Scott said officials should have a better idea in the next 24 hours on the potential path of the storm.
“If this storm slows down, there is a greater chance it's going to a little further to the east,” Scott said. “Also remember, we're on the bad side of the storm.”
The 29 counties in Thursday's order were already under a pair of other hurricane-related states of emergency.
Scott on Monday imposed a 60-day statewide emergency to help accommodate people from Puerto Rico who relocate to Florida due to Hurricane Maria.
An executive order on Sept. 4 placed all 67 counties under a state of emergency for 60 days in advance of Irma.
The counties under the latest order are: Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Holmes, Washington, Bay, Jackson, Calhoun, Gulf, Gadsden, Liberty, Franklin, Leon, Wakulla, Jefferson, Madison, Taylor, Hamilton, Suwannee, Lafayette, Dixie, Columbia, Gilchrist, Levy, Baker, Union, Bradford, and Alachua.