HERE COMES IRMA: Officials say it’s time to hunker down as storm’s outer bands mix with nor’easter

By early Sunday morning, landfall was imminent in South Florida and the first signs of Hurricane Irma’s northward turn toward the state’s west coast and points beyond could be observed.


Images from Key West, Miami, Naples, Fort Myers and other cities to the south indicated the leading edge of the Category 4 storm was bending trees and dumping rain the entire width of the peninsula.

Soon, hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were already without power across the state, with tornado warnings issued for many South Florida counties. By early afternoon, there was a moderate threat for, potentially, several tornadoes in St. Johns County, as indicated by National Weather Service maps.

(Just before press time, the NWS issued a tornado warning for the southeastern part of the county, where a severe thunderstorm with rotation capable of producing a tornado was located near St. Augustine Beach, or 8 miles east of St. Augustine, moving west at 35 miles an hour.)

Throughout the day, much of the county was starting to feel the outermost bands of Irma along with rains from a nor’easter expected to continue through Monday afternoon.

During a 4 p.m. press conference on Sunday, County Administrator Michael Wanchick said personnel on the ground were seeing elevated and sustained winds, coastal erosion, downed trees, electrical outages and street flooding.

“This is not going to be a quick storm,” he cautioned. “This is going to be an extended event.”

He encouraged residents to shelter wherever they are for the duration of the storm as the roads were already unsafe to traverse.

According to situation report from the St. Johns County Emergency Operations Center, posted at noon Sunday, there were several streets in St. Augustine’s city limits that began flooding.

Road closures (for flooding) were reported for the stretch of the Bayfront from the Bridge of Lions to Orange Street and the entirety of S. Matanzas Boulevard. The following intersections were also closed: Arricola Avenue and Arredondo Avenue, Arricola Avenue and Coquina Avenue, St. Francis Street and Cordova Street, and St. Augustine Boulevard and Inlet Place.

At one point, the Bridge of Lions was closed due to flooding on the east side of the bridge (not due to wind speed) but was reopened after the waters receded.

As of 4 p.m. Sunday, all the bridges were still open. Wanchick said they would remain open until it’s determined by personnel stationed at those bridges that they are unsafe to cross, if or when the county starts experiencing sustained tropical storm force winds.

Wind speeds at the bridges were being checked every 15 minutes in an effort to keep them open as long as possible. Officials said once one bridge requires closing, all the bridges close.

Wanchick and Sheriff David Shoar called for patience throughout the storm and after it passes. They said resources at federal, state and local levels will be strained in dealing with a statewide impact from Irma, to say nothing of Hurricane Harvey’s recent and extensive impact on Houston, Texas, and the surrounding areas.

According to an interactive map of public works service requests, provided by the county, there were already trees down blocking roadways, drains not draining, and traffic signals malfunctioning by 1 p.m. The map also indicated a complete closure of Old A1A in Summer Haven due to a roadway washout. Additional flooding events and storm-related damage in all four corners of the county were posted to the map by 4 p.m.

Water and sewer services were still up and running as of late Sunday afternoon, although Wanchick cautioned there were no guarantees they would stay on if the integrity of the systems were in jeopardy. He also encouraged residents to be on the lookout for boil water notices after the storm, just in case.

In a Facebook post Sunday morning, the county pointed to reports from the National Weather Service indicating St. Augustine was still under a hurricane warning and storm surge warning.

The county’s 9 a.m. update said the area will be experiencing sustained tropical storm force winds with hurricane force gusts.

“The wind threat has the wind potential at 58-73 miles per hour,” the post said. “There is a moderate tornado threat and that could grow as Irma moves closer to Tampa.”

The county also warned of a potential 2-4 foot storm surge and rainfall of 8-15 inches.

The story didn’t change much throughout the day.

Shoar said he was already hearing “troubling” reports from citizens along the Intracoastal Waterway who were seeing surges larger than they expected. He said Irma’s impact will likely not be confined to the coastal areas, however, noting the many low-lying areas along the St. Johns River in the western portions of the county.

Meanwhile, local tide charts for Monday indicate high tides at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina at 12:36 a.m. and 1:05 p.m, with low tides at 6:49 a.m. and 7:29 p.m.

Local officials on Sunday also cautioned residents and passers-through to avoid traveling on roads during the height of the storm.

Emergency evacuation shelters across the county remained open, although Pedro Menendez High School was already filled to capacity. As of 10 a.m. Sunday, there were still 277 open spots at Mill Creek Elementary School (general population), 404 spots at Bartram Trail High School (general population), 186 spots at Pacetti Bay Middle School (special needs), 406 spots at South Woods Elementary School (pet-friendly) and 420 spots at Timberlin Creek Elementary School (pet-friendly).

St. Johns County School District schools will now be closed Tuesday. There will be no classes Monday or Tuesday.

All administrative offices in St. Johns County, the City of St. Augustine and the City of St. Augustine Beach will be closed through Tuesday. Operational decisions will be based on post-storm conditions.

For more information, call the St. Johns County Emergency Management hotline at 904-824-5550 or go to