Tropical Storm Nestor is heading towards Florida Panhandle counties at 22 mph and is expected to bring heavy rain and storm surge.
4 p.m. update
Tropical Storm Nestor continued its high speed wobble towards Bay County Friday afternoon, and its lack of stability appeared to give Northwest Floridians hope that the impact of the storm would not be too great.
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The storm was boasting sustained winds of about 60 mph, but it was moving fast enough that Bay County Emergency Management Frankie Lumm was confident it would move through the area fast enough that heavy flooding would be avoided.
High winds were heavily concentrated on the right side of the storm, and that allowed Bay County officials to predict a storm surge of 1 to 3 feet, as opposed to the 3 to 5 feet projected Thursday night.
Okaloosa County two counties west of Bay, was calling for potential wind speeds from Nestor of between 39 to 57 miles per hour. "The wind threat has remained nearly steady from the previous (1 p.m.) assessment," a news release said.
Extracurricular activities, including football games have been cancelled for Panhandle schools and the Destin Fishing Rodeo has closed the scales for the day and will re-open on Saturday at 2 p.m.
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The storm is located about 280 miles southwest of Panama City at 22 mph with a minimum central pressure of 999 millibars.
Florida Department of Transportation and local emergency managment officials are monitoring the storm to determine if bridge closures are necessary. Sustained winds of 40 mph or greater must be present before bridge closures are considered.
Lumm, said "our bridges, with the wind speeds we're expecting, really shouldn't be affected.
1 p.m. update
The disturbance that has been churning in the Gulf of Mexico has now reached tropical storm status.
Nestor, called for maximum sustained winds of approximately 60 mph with higher gusts, according to a National Hurricane Center advisory posted at 1 p.m. Some strengthening was expected later in the day but the storm was predicted to weaken upon making landfall. The minimum central pressure is 1001 millibars and is a little over 300 miles southwest of Panama City.
Skies were overcast and light rain fell across the Panhandle for most of the day Friday as residents of Northwest Florida braced for the worst and hoped for the best with Tropical Storm Nestor zeroing in on the region.
The weather system that Mobile National Weather Service meteorologist Jason Beaman described as “very, very, very close” to tropical storm strength at mid-morning Friday had secured that status by early afternoon.
The storm was moving east in the direction of Panama City at about 22 miles per hour and Frankie Lumm, Bay County’s emergency management specialist said he expected weather to start deteriorating at around 2 or 3 p.m. and landfall near Panama City Beach between 8 and 10 p.m.
Lumm said at an 11 a.m. press conference the speed with which the storm was moving would reduce the chances of sustained rainfall and therefore flooding, and he labeled storm surge estimated at 1 to 3 feet “very positive for us.”
While Nestor is expected to pass over many of the same areas that were devastated by Hurricane Michael only a year ago, and Lumm said he had detected some trepidation among the locals, most in Bay County seemed confident that this was a storm they could weather.
“From a city standpoint and based on the people I’ve talked to, I don’t see any kind of stress level. I don’t see or sense that this is anything we can’t handle,” said Al Cathey, the mayor of Mexico Beach, where Michael made landfall last Oct. 10. “We got kicked in the teeth by Michael, and I don’t think a tropical depression is gonna create any type level of anxiety that is gonna cause us problems.”
Tropical Storm Nestor was approaching Tyndall Air Force Base barely one week after the first anniversary of Michael, which all but leveled the facility.
In an Oct. 11 letter to Tyndall personnel noting the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael, 325th Fighter Wing commander Col. Brian Laidlaw, who also is the base commander, wrote, “Like nearly all of you, I've spent the last year focusing on each day, one at a time, sometimes one hour at a time. ... We have a long way to go. It's not time for a victory party, but as a recent visitor to our base pointed out to me ... you guys are winning a batting title one single at a time.”
Bay County officials announced the opening of an emergency shelter at Dean Bozeman School on State Highway 77 in Panama City. The shelter will open at 5 p.m. and was to be shut down at noon Saturday, officials said. Lumm said it had been decided to open the facility for those who might not have returned to secure shelter since Hurricane Michael.
Walton County officials upgraded to a Level 2 emergency status Friday and were monitoring the storm. Okaloosa and Santa Rosa county emergency managers were doing the same.
The storm was expected to bring between two and four inches of rains to Northwest Florida. High surf and dangerous rip currents were predicted and some local flooding was expected.
Tropical Storm Nestor didn’t keep participants in Okaloosa County’s Destin Fishing Rodeo from getting out into the Gulf of Mexico Friday morning. Helen Donaldson, the executive director of the Rodeo, said fishermen were reporting bumpy seas well out from Destin Harbor, but “in close it was not that bad.”
And the fishing was good enough that a second place sized king mackerel had been brought in early for weighing, Donaldson said.
Rodeo officials did order a temporary halt to the fishing festivities Friday afternoon, however, announcing the rodeo closed at 3:30 p.m. Friday until 2 p.m. Saturday.
The sunshine Northwest Florida residents had gotten used to, maybe too used to, through a rain-free September was nowhere to be seen Friday morning as clouds pushed by a soon-to-be named weather system painted the sky a drab gray.
Jason Beaman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, in Mobile wasn’t quite ready following a 10 a.m. briefing to call the disturbance in the Gulf Tropical Storm Nestor, but said “we’re getting very, very, very close.”
As of the 10 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center, the storm has maximum sustained winds of 60 mph and the pressure is 1001 millibars.
“The system is becoming very organized this morning. It’s very close to being classified as a tropical or subtropical storm,” Beaman said. “They’ve got the hurricane hunters in there right now. They’re just trying to find where the center is consolidating. So it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a tropical or subtropical storm.”
A subtropical storm, Beaman explained has more features of a winter-type storm with a “broader windfield,” where as a tropical storm is more tightly wound, or “consolidated.” He said the system moving toward Northwest Florida is something of a hybrid.
The type of storm racing toward the Panhandle makes no difference as far as impact, Beaman said, and NWS had recorded winds up to 60 mph Friday morning. Beaman said the soon-to-be named storm is expected to make landfall somewhere between Destin and Panama City.
High winds and heavy rains were expected to strike the area late Friday.
A coastal flood advisory was issued by the National Weather Service at 1:42 a.m., Friday, with high surf expected through Saturday night and high risk of rip currents anticipated through Sunday.
An emergency management briefing in Bay County had been scheduled for 11 a.m.