Tropical Storm Bonnie makes landfall in Florida


Miami, Florida (CNN) — Strong winds hit southern Florida on Friday as Tropical Storm Bonnie made landfall near Biscayne Bay in southeastern Florida. The storm has maximum sustained winds of 40 mph.

The tropical storm watch for the northern Gulf of Mexico coast has been upgraded to a tropical storm warning.

The warning area now includes the northwestern Bahamas; the southeast coast of Florida, including the Keys; the west coast of Florida as far north as Englewood; and from Destin, Florida, to Morgan City, Louisiana.

The National Hurricane Center said that when the center of Bonnie made landfall at Biscayne Bay, south-southeast of Miami, most of the bad weather was already inland.

“No important change in strength is forecast while Bonnie is crossing the Florida peninsula,” the hurricane center said in its 11 a.m. ET advisory. “However … some slight strengthening is possible when the cyclone moves over the Gulf of Mexico late tonight and Saturday.”

Bonnie is expected to drop about 1 to 3 inches of rain over south Florida, with up to 5 inches in isolated areas.

The storm was also expected to bring surges, raising water levels by 2 feet or more above ground level over the Keys and southeastern Florida.

Bonnie is expected to hamper operations to contain the oil spilled by a broken well in the Gulf through Sunday evening and into early Monday, even if it weakens into a depression or tropical wave. The system will generate very choppy seas and gusty winds as it moves near or over the well on Saturday and Sunday.

With the weather changing, BP has suspended work on a relief well to permanently seal the damaged well. And late Thursday, the federal official overseeing the effort, retired Adm. Thad Allen, ordered ships in the area to shore. That could delay operations at the well site for 10 to 14 days. But Allen said there’s confidence that the well will be left capped and closed during the rough weather.

Ships used to skim oil off the surface are likely to have to come ashore as well. Currently, 215 are operating off the coast of Louisiana.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has issued an emergency declaration, intended to speed state help to parishes that need it after the storm hits. He said mandatory evacuations are not expected, but parishes might call for voluntary evacuations in some low-lying areas.

The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services encouraged residents Friday to prepare for the storm by pre-applying for Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, previously known as Disaster Food Stamps.

The program offers help buying groceries for those who do not regularly receive nutrition assistance but who are affected by lost wages or damages because of a disaster. Officials said that pre-applying does not guarantee benefits but is designed to prevent potentially long waits.

The weather system drenched the Bahamas and caused flooding in Puerto Rico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

In Monroe County, Florida, which covers the Keys, officials warned boaters to secure their vessels and remain in port until winds and seas subside. They warned drivers to use extreme caution on the Overseas Highway, especially on exposed bridges.

The storm also slowed business in southern Florida.

“We’ve had a lot of people call and say they might have to cancel due to the storm,” said Susie Bishop of Continental Inn Condominiums in Marathon, Florida. “I had a few people leave a few days early.”

The Coast Guard was preparing ports in Texas and Lake Charles, Louisiana, for the storm. All ports remained open Friday.

Tropical cyclones are classified as tropical storms when winds exceed 39 mph. Bonnie’s winds have remained at 40 mph, barely above this threshold, since Thursday afternoon, and it is regarded as a minimal tropical storm.

Bonnie is interacting with strong upper-level winds that are creating a significant amount of shear, and this shear is expected to increase over the system as it moves toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Shear causes tropical systems to weaken, and shear caused the tropical cyclone to become less organized during the overnight hours. The storm could dissipate later Friday as it moves rapidly west-northwest near 20 mph toward the Florida Keys.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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