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Northwest Florida Prepares For Zeta

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National Hurricane Center
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In what’s shaping up as the never-ending 2020 hurricane season, Tropical Storm Zeta is churning northward in the Gulf of Mexico. Northwest Floridians are being urged to monitor the situation.

Zeta is expected to re-strengthen into a hurricane before making landfall Wednesday night around the Louisiana-Mississippi state line. Escambia County officials held their first briefing – a virtual one – on Tuesday.

“Because of the peculiar track and some of the unknown associated with this storm, the county’s going to lean a little more forward than usual than what we would do,” said Eric Gilmore, Escambia Emergency Manager.

“As of [Tuesday] morning at 8:00 a.m., we did execute a local state of emergency,” said Gilmore. “And that’s just so we can do any protective measures that we deem necessary to prepare for an impact from Zeta so we make sure we have everything in place, I’s dotted and the T’s crossed.”

At the same time the state of emergency was declared, the Emergency Operations Center was opened at a modified Level-2. One saving grace about Zeta, says Gilmore, is that it will move rapidly through the area after reaching land.

“We’re not going to see the rain values that we saw during Sally; it’s going to hit the coast and get out of here pretty quick – within a 10-hour window,” said Gilmore. “It’s going to make a hard northeast turn. We could see up to 70 mph sustained winds. Seventy-five mph is a hurricane, so 5 [mph] difference doesn’t matter.”

After Sally, there remains a large amount of roofs with blue tarps, hanging trees, loose treetops and other damage. Gilmore says it’s a good idea to take inventory of your home and prepare yourself. Shelters will be open as needed.

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Credit myescambia.com
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Eric Gilmore, Escambia Co. Emergency Management Director.

“By [5:00] Wednesday afternoon, you should be in your safe space – whether it’s with a friend, a family member or at the shelter that we’re opening,” Gilmore said. “We have COVID still [so] you’ll be asked to wear a mask. We have hand sanitizer, we are doing the social distancing, the temperature checks and all the precautionary stuff that we’re doing for COVID.”

Along with the wind, rain, and storm surge, there will also be the potential for tornadoes as with any tropical storm or hurricane.

“They have increased the tornado values that we could potentially get off this,” said Gilmore. “We’re going to be on the east side of this, but also hav the Jet Stream pick it up is going to blow it more to the east. So that’s why we’re going to see a lot more wind that we typically would, with an impact toward Louisiana and Mississippi.”

Thanks to residents preparing for Hurricane Delta – which pretty much missed the Panhandle – Gilmore said prepping for Zeta should be relatively simple.

“A lot of people prepared for Delta – and good on you – and you still have your provisions from Delta,” Gilmore said. “We will have isolated power outages due to the trees and the limbs that we already have damaged out there. So get your flashlights, your batteries, and your weather radio.”

Still to be discussed is any evacuation plan, but the county has proactively reached out to the Supervisor of Elections Office, on how it would handle any problems in the middle of early voting. And Gilmore says forecasters are very confident in the storm’s track.

“What varies is the speed of the storm; how fast it hits and gets out,” said Gilmore. [Monday] we were looking at a storm that was going to hit Wednesday – all day Wednesday and be gone Wednesday night. [The Elections Office] are looking at delaying some hours of opening or closing early if need be. They’ll put that information out.”

With more than a month still remaining in the 2020 hurricane season, Zeta is the 27th named storm of the year -- one shy of the all-time record which was set in 2005.