Residents on Florida’s Gulf coast filled sandbags, schools closed early and graduation ceremonies were postponed as Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency with Tropical Storm Colin churning toward the state Monday, threatening serious flooding.
A large portion of Florida’s western and Panhandle coast was already under a tropical storm warning when the National Hurricane Center announced that a swift-moving depression had become a named storm. The center said it is the earliest that a third named storm has ever formed in the Atlantic basin.
Colin’s maximum sustained winds Monday were near 50 mph (85 kph) with some slow strengthening possible during the next two days. The storm was centered about 245 miles (455 kilometers) west of Tampa and moving north-northeast near 17 mph (28 kph).
Early Monday, Ronald P. Milligan, 74, stopped by a park in St. Petersburg where authorities planned to distribute sandbags because the ditch in front of his home had filled during the previous evening’s rain.
“If last night was a ‘no storm’ — and the water was almost up to the hump in my yard — I’m worried,” Milligan said, motioning to about knee level. He’s lived in Florida since the late 1970s and hasn’t ever prepared for a storm this early.
Sandbags also were being distributed in Tampa and nearby cities.
The latest forecast for Colin called for the center of the storm to make landfall near the Big Bend area of Florida in the late afternoon or early evening Monday, move across the Florida peninsula into Georgia and then move along or just off the South Carolina coast before heading out to sea.
Schools in at least one Florida Gulf Coast county planned to dismiss students early Monday. Pasco County, which had passed out about 20,000 sandbags so far, said schools would be letting out, and it was likely that county government would shut down around noon to get people off the road by 3 p.m.
In addition, two high school graduations in the Tampa Bay area were postponed due to the storms, with both ceremonies being moved to Wednesday night and Thursday. Winds from Colin also closed the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa.
Farther north at Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge two roads were already flooded by 2 p.m., and the storm’s arrival this afternoon was due at the same time as high tide, creating an even higher risk of severe flooding, said Andrew Gude, manager of the refuge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We’re taking chain saws home so we can cut our way out of our neighborhoods and cut our way back into work tomorrow,” Gude said.
Colin is expected to produce rainfall amounts of 3 to 5 inches, and forecasters said up to 8 inches are possible across western Florida, eastern Georgia and coastal areas of the Carolinas through Tuesday.
Forecasters also described Colin as a lopsided storm, with tropical storm-force winds extending up to 185 miles east of its center.
Not everyone in Florida was hunkering down. About 50 people were in the water with surfboards off Treasure Island to take advantage of the rare 2-3-foot swells breaking in the Gulf’s warm waters.
“It’s like man against nature,” said Derek Wiltison of Atlantic Beach. “Surfers tend to drop what they’re doing — work, relationships, whatever — to go out and catch a wave.”
A tropical storm warning was also in effect for the entire Georgia coast and the lower South Carolina coast.
Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott postponed a political meeting with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump scheduled Monday in New York so he can remain in the state capital to monitor the weather.
Scott warned residents not to simply look at the center of the storm, saying the heaviest rain will be to the east and west of it.
“I want everyone to be safe. I’ve talked to utilities and sheriff’s departments, but residents have to do their part,” Scott said.
Colin was expected to pass the Georgia coast before dawn Tuesday, said Dennis Jones, director of the Chatham County Emergency Management Agency.
Jones said flash floods appeared to pose the greatest threat, with the worst flood potential expected late Tuesday.
Allan Giese, 62, watched the start-and-stop rains Monday morning from his home about 150 yards from the St. Marys River, where he’s seen larger storms bang up boats anchored in the nearby marina. He planned to bring his plywood work table inside, but otherwise simply ride out the storm inside with his wife.
“What it sounds like is just some heavy rains, but nothing torrential, not high winds,” Giese said. “We’ll just keep an eye on the tracker, go to bed and hunker down.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Storm after storm, the only answer is sand bags! Each time hundred of millions of dollars are spent on clean up and reconstruction. Mother Nature will have her way. So, instead of spending money on sand bags and reconstruction, Louisiana, where every citizen should have been a millionaire, is not the answer. Design and implement drainage structure that would contend with the rain. I realize no amount of money can control Mother Nature and should not be attempted. I have seen flash floods in a desert environment which is devastating, only to see the water seek it’s own destiny. The last thing I want to see is government involvement with politicians sucking the kitty dry to line their pockets. Am I just dreaming? Can there be a pliable solution, even partial? I have no answers, but a book of questions and no trust in the government or politicians…
Well, you could stop reimbursing people for building in stupid places. For decades, New Orleans was defined by the amount of land that was above sea level, then they built the levees and started building below sea level so the city could get bigger. We ENABLED Katrina to be as damaging as it was. And, thanks to everyone who wants oceanfront property (or at least a short drive away) and all the groundwater they pump out for irrigation, Florida has become a giant game of Jenga.
You gonna build in a spot that is below sealevel you deserve what you get , greedy contractors build it and dumb people buy it they should not get reimbursed for getting places where eventually it is going to flood and expect us to bail them out !