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Fred, Depression or Tropical Storm, Headed For Florida

National Hurricane Center

Tropical Depression Fred is projected to strengthen and then make landfall in Florida’s Big Bend early Monday morning.

As of early this afternoon, Fred is about 245 miles southeast of Key West, with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph. Movement is west-northwest at about 12 mph. While the focus is on Fred’s trek up Florida’s west coast, officials and residents in the Florida Panhandle are also keeping an eye on the action.

“Pretty much when anything pops up on our radar out in the Atlantic — even when there are waves coming off of Africa — our office begins to monitor that very, very quickly,” said Patrick Maddox, Okaloosa County’s Public Safety Director.

“And we put out informational emails to our partners; those who we have on these critical information lists,” Maddox said. “Whether it be weather group, or municipalities, or critical infrastructure, fire — places like that,” he said.

Fred is projected to approach the Keys on Saturday and southwest Florida on Sunday. He became a tropical storm on Tuesday but weakened to a depression as it spun over Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where it knocked out power to some 400,000 customers and caused flooding.

As a precaution, shelters are being opened in Okaloosa, but Maddox believes they’ll likely not be needed.

“We put out our feeding contract, we spin that up and get ready, just in case,” said Maddox. “We set up an incident management team to monitor the storm, in case we have to activate any of our emergency support functions, and/or activate our [emergency operations center]. We develop an incident action plan to give everybody an area of responsibility, [and] what functions they’re responsible for.”

“The uncertainty is still really high as it relates to the Panhandle’s impact; it’s a disorganized system, for sure. It moved over Hispaniola; it’s now skirting the northern coast of Cuba [and] being impacted by land and some wind shear,” said Jeff Huffman at the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network in Gainesville.

While he’s a bit nervous about this disorganized storm system, Huffman adds that as of now, the chances of Fred becoming a significant threat to the western Panhandle are pretty slim.

“But I don’t want to write it off,” he said. “Anytime we’ve got a system moving into the eastern Gulf, especially as we approach the heart of hurricane season, we’ve got to watch it moment-by-moment. And that’s what we’re going to do [during] the weekend. If it were to give impacts in the Pensacola area and the Emerald Coast, it would be during the day on Monday.”

One advantage Florida appears to have, is that Fred was beaten up pretty badly as he went over the Dominican Republic and its mountainous terrain. That did a number on the wind field and the center of circulation. But Huffman says Fred is a survivor.

“And when it moves into the southeastern Gulf, there is obviously warm enough water,” Huffman said. “It’s wind shear that may prevent it from re-intensifying quickly. It kind of depends on the track. If it move farther west, which [would] place Pensacola at greater risk, it has a better chance of intensifying. So, that’s why we need to watch this closely through the weekend.”

As Fred approaches the Big Bend, another tropical system is forming in the Atlantic. The storm, which would be called Grace, was about 850 miles east of the Lesser Antilles as of Friday morning with an 80% chance of development over the next 48 hours. Its current path would take it up Florida’s east coast.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.