Tropical Storm Isaias was downgraded from a hurricane on Saturday afternoon, but it’s expected to make landfall Monday night as a hurricane once again.
The storm’s center is currently off the northeastern coast of Florida, moving toward the Carolinas.
Isaias was the second hurricane of the season and the earliest named storm starting with “I” in history.
Tropical Storm Isaias battered Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, but has thus far mostly spared Florida on its journey north.
The storm was downgraded from a hurricane on Saturday afternoon, after its sustained wind speeds dipped below 74 mph. Maximum sustained winds are now around 70 mph.
But Isaias (pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs) could strengthen to hurricane status again as it churns toward the Carolinas, the National Hurricane Center warned on Monday. Isaias is expected to make landfall in South Carolina on Monday night.
As of 11:00 a.m. ET on Monday, Isaias was hovering off the coast of Georgia, heading north at 13 mph.
Heavy winds and rain are expected in South Carolina. A hurricane warning is in effect for portions of North and South Carolina’s coast, and tropical storm warnings have been issued for much of the US East Coast.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency on Friday, urging residents to make preparations and follow guidelines. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster urged residents to prepare for Isaias’ potential landfall but did not declare an emergency or issue an evacuation order.
Where Isaias has hit already
As a tropical storm, Isaias swept through the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, where it flooded roads, felled trees, and caused landslides. It led to hundreds of thousands of power outages for Puerto Rican residents and caused at least one death, according to the New York Times.
After becoming a hurricane on Thursday, Isaias battered the Bahamas, downing trees and power lines and dropping more than 1 foot of rain in some areas. It then grazed Florida over the weekend, lashing the coast with rain and heavy winds.
Isaias was the earliest named storm starting with “I” ever to form in a hurricane season. Because storms are named in alphabetical order, that means nine tropical storms have already formed — the first time that’s happened before August 1 since the US began recording hurricane data in the 19th century.
The difference between a tropical storm and hurricane is wind speed: A tropical storm’s winds blow at a sustained 39 to 73 mph, whereas a hurricane’s winds are 74 mph or greater.
The season’s first hurricane, Hanna, made landfall in southern Texas on July 25, with wind speeds reaching 90 mph. Forecasts for the season overall predict a high activity, with up to six major storms (category 3 or higher).
US states in Isaias’ path are battling coronavirus outbreaks
Florida is battling the nation’s second-largest coronavirus outbreak. North and South Carolina, meanwhile, have a combined total of more than 216,000 confirmed cases and 3,700 deaths.
Gov. Cooper said in a Monday press briefing that although North Carolinians “mostly know what to do” when preparing for hurricanes, preparations this year should look different.
“This time, pack your mask and hand sanitizer in your kit, and remember to social distance,” he said. “The three W’s — wash, wear, and wait — are just as important during a storm as they ever were.”
South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control has been preparing for the intersection of a storm and the pandemic for months, working to make shelter options available to residents with specific medical needs, like ventilators.
“We, like much of the nation, have never conducted a hurricane operation during a pandemic, but we know that together, with our partners and with the help of all South Carolinians, we will be resilient in the face of these new challenges,” Marshall Taylor, the department’s general counsel, said in a June press release.
Climate change leads to stronger, wetter hurricanes
Hurricanes are increasing in intensity due to climate change. Because hurricanes use warm water as fuel, they have more to feed on as oceans warm, and don’t dissipate as quickly. A 2013 study found that for each degree the planet warmed over the previous 40 years, the proportion of category 4 and 5 storms — the strongest hurricanes — increased by 25-30%.
In addition to making hurricanes stronger, climate change is also making them slower and wetter: Over the past 70 years, the speed of hurricanes and tropical storms has slowed about 10% on average, according to a 2018 study. Slower hurricanes, like Dorian last year, can linger in an area and cause greater damage than a quicker one might.
As the planet continues to warm, hurricanes are expected to grow even stronger and more frequent. Research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that each new decade over the last 40 years has brought an 8% increase in the chance that a storm turns into a major hurricane.
This is a developing story — check back for updates.
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