Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for 26 counties Wednesday in anticipation of a powerful hit from Hurricane Dorian during the Labor Day weekend.
DeSantis’ executive order, which is expected to enable better coordination for state and local governments with federal agencies, was accompanied by an announcement that the state Emergency Operations Center would become fully activated Thursday morning.
“It’s important for Floridians on the East Coast to monitor this storm closely,” DeSantis said in a statement.
DeSantis added that the state was ready to support all coastal counties as they prepare for the storm.
The order covers numerous functions of state government, while also clearing the way for agreements with other states to coordinate resources. It also ordered Adj. Gen. James Eifert to activate the Florida National Guard “as needed” to deal with the emergency.
The order covers all coastal counties on the East Coast, from Nassau to Monroe, and a number of inland counties, including Baker, Bradford, Clay, Glades, Hendry, Highlands, Lake, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Putnam, Seminole and Union.
The storm, which was upgraded from a tropical storm to a hurricane Wednesday afternoon, is projected to make landfall late Sunday or Monday morning on the East Coast as a potential major hurricane, with winds topping 110 mph.
“Because of the uncertainty in the track of this storm, every resident along the East Coast needs to be ready,” state Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said in a statement. “By having an executive order in place and by activating the State Emergency Operations Center to a Level 2, we are fully prepared to support any community that might be impacted.”
Tropical-storm force winds are expected to reach Florida on Saturday, with the winds extending as far as Pensacola late Sunday.
“All indications are that by this Labor Day weekend, a powerful hurricane will be near or over the Florida peninsula,” the National Hurricane Center posted Wednesday afternoon. “The new NHC track forecast is a little bit to the south of the previous one, given that global models have a stronger ridge to the north and the track models show more of a westward motion.”
The “cone of probability,” which offers a general idea of where the storm could make landfall, stretched Wednesday afternoon from the northern Florida Keys to south of Savannah, Ga., though it was centered on the East Coast of Central Florida.
Under the latest model, the center of Dorian would remain a hurricane while crossing Central Florida, before exiting into the Gulf of Mexico.
Dorian’s projected path shifted north of Hispaniola on Wednesday, putting the system away from the island’s mountains and into more open water.
Earlier in the week, Dorian had been predicted to remain a tropical storm when it reached Florida.
Accompanying DeSantis’ order Wednesday, Attorney General Ashley Moody activated Florida’s price-gouging hotline --- (866) 9NO-SCAM, or via app NO SCAM --- for counties included in the state of emergency.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said Wednesday his city’s Emergency Operations Center was starting to ramp up and would begin full-time operations Thursday morning.
“We’ve done this before. We’ve been through this together. This is no time to panic,” Curry said during a news conference. “We don’t know what will develop in the days ahead, but it’s time to know your evacuation zone.”
Curry said no changes had been made in plans for the Florida State University-Boise State football game, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.
Dorian could be the fifth hurricane to impact the state in four years.
In 2016, Hurricane Matthew caused damage as it skirted the East Coast, and Hurricane Hermine knocked out electricity in the Tallahassee area. Hurricane Irma barreled through much of the state in 2017, and Hurricane Michael devastated parts of the Panhandle last year.