Emergency officials 'getting ready to get ready' for Tropical Storm Isaac

Tropical Storm Isaac will likely turn into a Category 1 hurricane by Friday as it nears the Dominican Republic and Haiti. It was expected to weaken a little over Cuba, then possibly move on toward Florida as a hurricane by Monday.

Tropical Storm Isaac will likely turn into a Category 1 hurricane by Friday as it nears the Dominican Republic and Haiti. It was expected to weaken a little over Cuba, then possibly move on toward Florida as a hurricane by Monday.

Emergency Management Director Dan Summers.  David Albers/ Staff

Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Daily News // Buy this photo

Emergency Management Director Dan Summers. David Albers/ Staff

Emergency officials are stocking shelters, reviewing hurricane plans and urging residents to prepare as Tropical Storm Isaac barrels toward Florida.

If projections hold, Isaac could hit Southwest Florida as a Category 1 hurricane on Monday. If the storm comes ashore near Naples, as forecasters currently predict, it would be the first hurricane to hit the coast since Wilma in 2005 and the first since Collier County’s new emergency services center opened in 2009.

“We are very well postured to respond,” said Dan Summers, Collier County’s emergency services director. “We drill frequently.”

Isaac now has some company out in the Atlantic after new tropical depression formed Wednesday afternoon. If it intensifies and becomes a named storm, the system — the 10th this year — would be Tropical Storm Joyce.

It is hard to predict where Isaac will hit days before the hurricane is expected to make landfall, Summers said. Officials deployed supplies this week to county shelters, which are typically located at local schools, so the equipment is on site should the shelters become necessary, he said.

“Our plans right now are to re-evaluate midday (Thursday) and likely we will pull some of our agencies for a briefing (Thursday) afternoon,” he said. “The whole issue is how it behaves over Cuba as to whether we are going to have something tropical or subtropical or hurricane in nature.”

The new emergency services center is expected to help officials respond should Isaac hit Collier County. The state-of-the-art center on Lely Cultural Parkway is 17.5 feet above sea level and has been rated to withstand the strongest hurricane.

“It’s not like the olden days when we crammed 80 people in a room for 13. We have the space, the new tools and technology,” Summers said. “It will make us much more efficient and effective in the storm response. We would hate to use it, but we’re darn glad we have it.”

Gerald Campbell, the chief of planning for Lee County Emergency Management, said Lee County officials are also monitoring the storm.

“We’re going over initial plans, but basically, we’re getting ready to get ready,” he said. “Hopefully, the storm will turn and we can all go home, but it is not looking that way.”

Forecasts expect Isaac to be a Category 1 hurricane as it hits Cuba on Sunday, said Jennifer Colson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tampa. It is expected to be downgraded to a tropical storm as it crosses Cuba, and become a Category 1 hurricane again as it approaches Florida.

Colson said hurricanes tend to dissipate as they move over land because of an increase in friction. Once the storm is over open water, she said, it can rebuild and strengthen.

“There is still some variability (in the path of the storm) because it’s days away,” she said. “I wouldn’t say Naples is under a bull’s eye.”

A tropical storm becomes a Category 1 hurricane when its winds near the center reach 74 miles per hour. Average wind speed for a Category 1 hurricane is 74 to 95 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The center says a Category 1 hurricane can damage roofs, shingles, vinyl siding and gutters of well-constructed frame houses. The winds can snap large branches of trees, topple shallowly-rooted trees, damage power lines and poles and lead to power outages, according to the center.

State Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon said it is too early to tell how Florida will be affected, but said the state is likely to see some impact. Still, he said there is no reason visitors should cancel their plans to come to the Republican National Convention, which is slated to start Monday in Tampa.

Koon said he has been in constant contact with Republican officials about the storm threat. He also said there may be no need for evacuation in downtown Tampa even if a Category 1 hurricane was approaching. Much of the area around the convention site is low-lying and near the water.

“I am confident in our preparation, and the decision process in place to ensure the safety of both our residents and visitors during the convention,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a prepared statement. “As Florida’s governor, I’m urging everyone across the state to monitor the storm track, and use the next several days to prepare for a potential storm."

Residents should monitor media in the coming days and stock their hurricane kits, Summers said. He also suggested residents have a plan to get out of the storm’s path should it become necessary.

“Other than that, we’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.

Campbell urged residents to “stay alert and aware” of what’s happening.

“Hurricanes are a fact of life in Florida,” he said. “Check your supplies, check your plans, make sure you are ready to take protective action if needed. If and when evacuations orders are needed, heed those orders.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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