As Tropical Storm Nate heads into the Gulf of Mexico where it is expected to strengthen, Northwest Florida emergency officials urge residents to prepare for tropical storm — or possibly hurricane — conditions.
A tropical storm watch was upgraded to a hurricane watch from the Walton-Okaloosa County lane westward Friday morning as National Hurricane Center models tightened up on their projections that Nate would make landfall some between southeastern Louisiana to the Alabama-Florida line.
Alvin Henderson, Okaloosa County's director of public safety, said Friday afternoon that residents could expect to see sustained winds of 20 to 30 mph and gusts up to 45 mph if current hurricane models hold true.
“This isn’t going to be a big rain event for us, so right now we are forecasting anywhere from 1 to 3 inches of rain,” Henderson said. “As far as storm surge, and this would be applicable to coastal Okaloosa County, we could see anywhere from 2 to 4 feet. ... The point of interest for us is going to be the potential for tornadoes.”
Public Information Officer Rob Brown said Okaloosa County would open a shelter at Davidson Middle School in Crestview at 8 a.m. Saturday as a protective measure for anyone wanting a place to stay. He said the county was not planning to issue evacuation orders, but would closely monitor the storm and post updates to alertokaloosa.website.
In Santa Rosa County, Emergency Management Director Brad Baker said officials were preparing the Milton Community Center as a possible shelter, but had not opened it or issued any evacuation orders as of 2 p.m. Friday.
“(Santa Rosa County residents) should expect deteriorating conditions late Saturday night into Sunday morning, and right now they’re anticipating it to be a low Category 1 storm right before landfall,” Baker said.
Baker said the county’s Emergency Operations Center had upgraded to a Level 2 out of 3, meaning the county had begun bringing in emergency support functions.
The Walton County Emergency Management team on Facebook urged residents to prepare for severe weather even though most of the county was outside the cone.
“It is important to not focus on the cone,” the post said. “Impacts from Tropical Storm Nate can extend well outside this cone.”
Emergency officials said they had not opened any shelters or issued any evacuation orders as of Friday afternoon.