UPDATED AT 10:45 a.m. 9/24
It’s been just two years since Hurricane Irma clobbered the Florida peninsula and memories of last year’s blast from Michael are still painfully fresh — and the beat goes on.
After blasting the Bahamas and menacing mainland Florida for days, Hurricane Dorian is now creeping along the coast at 8 mph, moving steadily toward Georgia and the Carolinas as a Category 2 storm after devastating the Bahamas as one of the most powerful storms in history. At 10 a.m., the storm was located 100 miles east of St. Augustine Beach, moving north-northwest at 8 mph with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph and higher gusts.
More than 10,000 are without power along the Florida coast, but the state has been spared most of Dorian’s wrath. Now coastal Georgia and the Carolinas are hoping for the same kind of luck.
FEMA has over 1,600 employees deployed or on the way to Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. According to the National Weather Service, Dorian is expected to move slightly faster toward the northwest or north-northwest through early Wednesday. A turn toward the north is forecast by Wednesday evening, followed by a turn toward the north-northeast on Thursday morning. On this track, the core of Dorian will remain dangerously close to the Florida east coast and the Georgia coast through Wednesday night. The center of Dorian is forecast to move near or over the coast of South Carolina and North Carolina Thursday through Friday morning.
More than 2 million people have already evacuated the storm’s path.
In Georgia, state police turned Interstate 16 into a one-way highway to facilitate the evacuation of more than 540,000 residents along the coast.
In South Carolina, about 244,000 people were evacuated from coastal areas, according to state transportation officials — or about one-third of the population in the affected areas.
North Carolina’s Outer Banks could also be in Dorian’s path, with the hurricane anticipated to be a still-dangerous Category 1 by the time it reaches there.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper urged caution. “Please listen to and follow all evacuation orders,” Cooper said Tuesday. “We have seen the life-and-death effects of this storm in the Bahamas, and we urge everyone on the [Outer Banks] islands to leave.”
There is an increased risk of tornadoes ahead of the storm itself, created by a storm surge projected between 2 and 7 feet. The storm will bring powerful winds, heavy rain and storm surges as it passes.
Economists and Extension faculty with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are already preparing to estimate agricultural losses after Dorian passes, said Saqib Mukhtar, associate dean for agricultural programs with UF/IFAS Extension. Other states’ efforts are similar.
“UF/IFAS Extension agents and specialists are ready and committed to support Florida’s agricultural and natural resources-based industries,” Mukhtar said. He explained that UF/IFAS Extension focuses primarily on gathering loss data for crops and livestock within the state; estimates for forestry and fisheries losses are handled by other government agencies.
Millions Of Ag Acres In Harm’s Way
The area of Florida along in Dorian’s path includes nearly 750,000 acres in agricultural production, a figure that does not include grazing land, Court said.
“The big categories in the region, in terms of acreage, are citrus, vegetables grown for the fresh market, hay, sod, non-citrus fruit, and nursery and greenhouse crops,” Court said.
“In terms of dollar value,” she continued, “the region’s biggest industries, in descending order, are fruit farming, including citrus and non-citrus fruits; support activities for agriculture and forestry; production of nursery, greenhouse and floriculture crops; vegetable and melon farming; beef cattle ranching; and dairy cattle and milk production.”
As they have done in previous years, UF/IFAS Extension agents will fan out across their home territories after the storm, interviewing operations managers and property owners to obtain first-hand estimates of crop losses, which are then used by the Economic Impact Analysis Program to estimate the total agricultural losses for the impacted region, and passed along to state and federal officials who use the estimates in developing plans for relief efforts, and in support of decision-making related to agricultural resilience.
Aside from the UF/IFAS Extension county offices along Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the two UF/IFAS facilities likely to experience Dorian’s fury first are the UF/IFAS Medical Entomology Laboratory in Indian River County and nearby Indian River Research and Education Center in St. Lucie County.
IFAS Extension Offices, Others Standing By To Help
Ron Cave, director of Indian River Research and Education Center, said personnel there have already made preparations.
“We are taking precautions to protect all UF property, to manage flooded citrus groves and to care for the students living in our dorms,” Cave said. “After Dorian passes, we will be ready to assess the consequences to the Treasure Coast’s agricultural community and assist in getting back to normal.”
We will have updates for Georgia and the Carolinas later in the day; meanwhile, more information is available at www.nhc.noaa.gov