Tropical storm Isaias is closing in on the Florida coast and through Sunday night will unleash strong wind gusts, heavy rain, and the potential for storm surge flooding along its eastern shores from south to north.

The storm that caused damage in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas as a hurricane is just beginning its tour of the U.S. mainland, with a possible landfall in Florida on today followed by another on early Tuesday in the Carolinas, before it charges up the rest of the eastern seaboard from Virginia to Maine, exiting late Wednesday.

Flooding from rising ocean water at the shore and heavy rains into the interior could affect every coastal state from Florida to Maine.

As of 5 a.m., Isaias was located 45 miles southeast of West Palm Beach moving northwest at 9 miles per hour. The storm’s maximum sustained winds are 65 miles per hour, making it a strong tropical storm.

Although it is passing over warm water which would ordinarily support intensification, Isaias has battled wind shear since Friday which has not allowed it to become well-organized. The National Hurricane Center Sunday has indicated models “do not show the shear abating” and that “the window of opportunity for it to re-strengthen is closing.”

The Hurricane Center forecasts Isaias to remain a tropical storm as it surges up the East Coast through Wednesday with the greatest threat coming from the storm’s heavy rains, with damaging winds confined to coastal areas closest to the storm center.

From the eastern Carolinas into the Northeast, the storm may interact with other weather systems to create periods of heavy rain on Monday into Tuesday. As much as a half-foot of rain or more could fall in the corridor from Raleigh to Washington to New York City corridor, some of which could fall well ahead of the tropical storm itself. This could lead to flooding in these areas.

A tropical storm warning extends from Hallandale Beach, Florida to South Santee River in South Carolina and is expected to be expanded north on Sunday. This warning zone includes Fort Lauderdale, Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, Savannah, and Charleston.

In southeast Florida, storm’s outer rain bands have already produced periodic heavy showers and wind gusts of 40 to 60 mph.

Link: Radar loop of storm

Meanwhile, a storm surge warning covers the zone from Jupiter Inlet to Ponte Vedra Beach. The surge is the storm-driven rise in ocean water above normally dry land, which could lead to several feet of coastline inundation. A storm surge of 2 to 4 feet of water above normally dry land is possible if the peak of the storm hits at high tide.

The biggest surge is expected just north of where the center makes its closest approach to land.

There is the potential for life threatening storm surge along portions of the immediate coast that are typically vulnerable to elevated ocean levels or where dune erosion has occurred,” wrote the National Weather Service. “Low land flooding is also possible along the intracoastal waterways and in vulnerable low lands near inlets and other low areas near the coast.”

Since Friday, the storm has drenched the southeastern and central Bahamas, buffeting the islands with hurricane-force winds while also likely producing several feet of storm surge inundation. The Northwest Bahamas caught the brunt of Isaias on Saturday as it closed in on Florida, making landfall on northern Andros Island at midday on Saturday.

The weather is behind NASA and SpaceX’s decision to bring the crew of SpaceX’s “Endeavor” capsule, which is slated to undock from the International Space Station on Saturday evening and splash down Sunday afternoon at 2:41 pm, the first-ever astronaut splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico, away from Isaias.

The space agency and its private sector partner are aiming for a landing near Pensacola, where waves are forecast to be between around one foot.

The storm will buffet Florida from south to north throughout the day and into tonight, with the hardest hit region stretching from West Palm Beach to Melbourne. However, the impacts may be mitigated by the fact the storm’s strongest winds and heaviest rains are east of its center.

The tropical threat to the Sunshine State comes as officials continue to grapple with a sharp increase in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths during the past one to two months. Weather Service offices and Hurricane Hunter aircraft are staffed with crews wearing protective equipment, including masks, observing social distancing protocols to the extent possible.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) issued a state of emergency for counties along Florida’s Atlantic coast.

He said that the state and local communities are opening shelters while ensuring proper protocols be taken in the face of the pandemic.

Latest forecasts have the highest winds confined to the immediate coast of eastern Florida, particularly between West Palm Beach and Melbourne, where sustained winds may approach hurricane force for a time, and gust to 75 miles per hour or higher.

Farther inland, tropical storm force winds, with gusts to 45 to 55 miles per hour are anticipated. To the north of the storm center, there is a threat for isolated weak tornadoes as wind shear associated with the storm, which occurs when winds change speed and/or direction with height, causes some squalls to spin.

Heavy rainfall is predicted to unload a broad two to four inches, with localized six-inch amounts in eastern Florida over the weekend. This could lead to some flooding.

However, rainfall amounts in Florida will feature a steep gradient if the storm’s heaviest rains remain just offshore, in which case only a broad one to two inches with localized three-inch totals would be more likely.

Sunday night through early Tuesday morning, Isaias will parallel the coast of the southeastern United States, causing strong winds and squally weather in southeastern Georgia before potentially making landfall near the South Carolina, North Carolina border late Monday.

On its track up the East Coast and through the Gulf of Maine, the Hurricane Center calls for Isaias to persist as a strong tropical storm.

Hot ocean waters along East Coast are drawing in ‘weird’ fish and supercharging hurricane season

Heavy rain and flooding, strong winds and coastal flooding are possible in coastal Georgia, South Carolina, eastern North Carolina.

The National Weather Service predicts two to five inches of rain and isolated amounts to seven inches in this zone, although a lesser one to three inches is favored in southeast Georgia with a more offshore storm track.

Where the heaviest rain falls, flash, river and/or urban flooding could occur.

From the Virginia Beach to coastal Maine, tropical storm conditions are also possible from Isaias between late Monday and Wednesday from south to north. This may include very heavy rainfall, strong winds, dangerous surf and coastal flooding.

Even areas well inland from the coast, including the Interstate 95 corridor all the way west to the southern and central Appalachians are forecast to receive two to five inches of rain with isolated amounts to 6 or 7 inches.

Isaias may dump heavy rain on D.C. region Monday and Tuesday

The extremely humid air transported north by Isaias will also interact with a cold front preceding an approaching dip in the jet stream. That will help to focus the rainfall and will probably cause at least isolated flooding issues, particularly in the Mid-Atlantic and along the Appalachians.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic complicates the decisions both of local emergency management officials tasked with ordering evacuations and opening shelters, and the residents who may find themselves forced to use them.

Florida prepares for dueling disasters: Coronavirus and a hurricane

On Thursday, the American Meteorological Society released guidance on sheltering during the pandemic, stressing that “if you evacuate to a shelter, you are responsible for your health.” The document notes, however, that states and municipalities that open shelters will most likely provide for social distancing and mask use, among other precautions.

They recommended that residents procure and bring their own sanitation supplies while also following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to rely less on deployed field teams in areas where community spread of the coronavirus is occurring, instead processing damage claims remotely. In addition, storm planning documents encourage officials to consider ordering those not vulnerable to storm surge or other flooding impacts to shelter in place.

Of the states most likely to be affected by the storm, Florida is among the hardest hit when it comes to coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. On Friday, Florida recorded its fourth consecutive day with a record high death count, at 257, along with 9,007 new cases. Florida is one of only four states to have had at least one day with more than 250 deaths, according to a Washington Post database.

Isaias became the ninth named Atlantic storm of 2020, which does not usually develop until closer to early October. It’s the earliest “I” storm on record by more than a week, and the latest domino to topple in a season that’s also brought the earliest-forming C, E, F and G storms on record in the Atlantic — Cristobal, Edouard, Fay and Gonzalo. Including Isaias, 2020 has produced five named storms in July, tied for the most on record with 2005.

It is the first time on record the last week of July produced two hurricanes (Isaias and Hanna) in the Atlantic.

Matthew Cappucci contributed to this article.

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