(CNN) — As a tropical storm, Isaias whipped Haiti and the Dominican Republic and left hundreds of thousands of people without power on Puerto Rico alone.
Now a hurricane, it’s heading toward the Bahamas and Florida on Friday morning — and may eventually have much of the US East Coast in its sights.
Isaias — pronounced (ees-ah-EE-as) — strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane late Thursday after crossing the Dominican Republic, and — with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph — was hitting the southernmost Bahamas islands with rain and wind Friday morning.
The hurricane is expected to slam the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos with 4 to 8 inches of rain and leave potentially life-threatening flooding Friday and Saturday, the National Hurricane Center says.
Isaias’ center then is expected to get close to Florida’s east coast Saturday or Sunday. Rains from outer bands could hit South Florida by Friday night.
South and east-central Florida could see 2 to 4 inches, with isolated totals of 6 inches, from Friday night through Monday, the NHC says.
Much of the Bahamas is under a hurricane warning Friday morning, while parts of Florida’s Atlantic coast, including Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, are under a tropical storm watch.
On Thursday, Isaias’ exterior slammed Puerto Rico before it went over the Dominican Republic, all as a tropical storm. It left 300,000 to 400,000 people without power in Puerto Rico, National Weather Service San Juan meteorologist Gabriel Lojero told CNN.
It dropped 5 to 10 inches of rain, triggering flash floods and mudslides on the island, Lojero said. One woman went missing after her car was swept away, he said.
“A lot of neighborhoods were submerged under water,” Lojero said.
More rain is expected Friday in the Dominican Republic and Haiti; by storm’s end, up to 12 inches of rain could have accumulated in some areas there, the NHC said.
A storm threat during a pandemic
The storm comes at a sensitive time during the coronavirus pandemic. Florida reported nearly 10,000 new Covid-19 cases Thursday, the highest total for one state on that day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez told CNN on Thursday he would be concerned about keeping evacuees socially distanced if a hurricane hit the state.
“Look, if we have a major hurricane here, then we’re going to have to evacuate a number of people and then we’re going to have to … try to keep them separated as much as possible,” he said. “That’s a concern.”
“When you’re not testing is also a concern,” he added. “But the greater danger, the immediate danger has to be taken care of first, and that’s getting our people out of harm’s way.”
Exactly where, and how intensely, it will hit the US is uncertain
Where Isaias will affect the US, and how intense it will be, was still uncertain Friday morning.
Some forecast models show the storm slowing down and coming very close to the Florida coast Saturday and Sunday before getting near the Carolinas on Monday and Tuesday. In contrast, others curve the hurricane away from Florida and directly toward the Carolinas.
Either way, the storm could affect much of the US East Coast at some point into next week — potentially bringing winds of tropical-storm strength as far north as Maine by early Wednesday.
“Interests along the entire US East Coast should monitor the progress of Isaias and updates to the forecast,” the NHC said Friday morning.
Isaias is the earliest storm to begin with an “I” on record. The previous record was set on August 7, 2005, part of the busiest season to date.
This continues the record-breaking pace of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. Hurricane Hanna smashed the record for the earliest storm with an “H” name by 11 days.