All eyes in The Villages and the surrounding tri-county area were on Tropical Storm Dorian on Monday as it continued to gain strength and threaten to become a hurricane.
The storm was barreling toward the Caribbean on Monday afternoon and was predicted to hit Barbados on Tuesday and then take aim Wednesday at Puerto Rico, which is still reeling from the devastation left behind by Hurricane Maria two years ago.
So far, it’s been a quiet 2019 hurricane season. But September is known as the most active month for the storms to form and if Dorian does advance past being a tropical storm, it would become the first named hurricane of the 2019 season.
Late Monday morning, the storm was packing winds of 60 mph and was moving to the west-northwest at about 14 mph. It is predicted to become a lower-level Category 1 hurricane with winds narrowly topping the 74-mph threshold for a hurricane. But forecasters say it also could weaken when it encounters the rough terrain of Hispaniola and possibly gets sapped by pockets of dry air.
A tracking map on Monday showed Dorian off the coast of South Florida at 8 a.m. Saturday. Some models have it going straight across the southern portion of the Sunshine State and into the Gulf of Mexico, while others have it heading north and possibly coming ashore and crossing over the Central Florida area. But forecasters warn that it’s way to early to predict an accurate path for the storm, or whether it will even maintain hurricane strength winds and hit Florida at all.
Those forecasts, however, haven’t dissuaded Villagers and tri-county residents from keeping watch on the storm and beginning the process of getting ready for the worst-case scenario. Few will forget the anxiety from September 2017 when Hurricane Irma roared ashore at Marco Island on the Gulf Coast and then took aim on The Villages as it roared into Central Florida with winds in excess of 70 mph and gusts at close to 100 mph.
Irma pelted The Villages with 12-15 inches of rain and high winds and left behind quite a mess – damaged homes and businesses, uprooted trees and downed powerlines. Thanks to the heavy rains and large amounts of precipitation that preceded the storm, Villagers – some without power – were forced to deal with multiple sinkholes opening up and flood issues across the community, from yards to streets to golf cart paths and tunnels to golf courses to homes on the Historic Side of the community.
Irma’s floodwaters made the golf cart bridge over U.S. Hwy. 27/441 impassable, essentially cutting off many elderly residents who relied solely on golf cart transportation from being able to buy groceries and get to medical appointments. The dilemma was so serious that members of a Facebook group called The Villages Friendly Folks took it upon themselves to spend five days delivering water, ice and food to those in need.
Once Irma had passed, the lines that had formed at area gas stations before the hurricane hit quickly returned. Debris covered streets in Villages town squares and many different neighborhoods. And at least one down tree landed against a Villages home as it toppled from the high winds and soggy ground beneath it.
With the possibility of Dorian becoming a hurricane and hitting the Central Florida area, officials with the National Hurricane Center are encouraging residents to get prepared early. In addition to make sure your vehicles are full of fuel, hurricane kits should be assembled that include:
- One gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation;
- At least a three-day supply of non-perishable food with a manual can opener;
- Battery-powered or hand-crank radio;
- NOAA weather radio with tone alert;
- First aid kit;
- Extra batteries (these sell fast so be prepared);
- Whistle to signal for help;
- Dust mask to help filter contaminated air;
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place if need be;
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation;
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities;
- Local maps; and
- Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery.
Additional items to consider include:
- Prescription medications in the sealed bottles they came in;
- Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids or laxatives;
- Glasses and contact lens solution;
- Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream;
- Pet food and extra water for your pet;
- Cash or traveler’s checks;
- Important family documents such as insurance policies, identification and bank account records;
- Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person;
- A couple of complete changes of clothing and sturdy shoes;
- Household chlorine bleach and a medicine dropper to disinfect water; and
- Fire extinguisher.
It’s also important to keep a list of pertinent contacts, such as local emergency management and government offices, hospitals, utilities, the local chapter of the American Red Cross and your insurance agent. And don’t hesitate to call 911 if you have an emergency that requires help from law enforcement, fire departments or EMS units.