TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Oct. 6, 2017 – Twenty-nine counties along the Gulf Coast and in North Florida were put under a state of emergency last Thursday as Florida prepared to feel impacts from Tropical Storm Nate, which was moving across northeastern Nicaragua at the time and expected to become a hurricane as it crossed the Gulf of Mexico.
When issuing the broad emergency declaration, Gov. Rick Scott said it was because the path of the storm was unknown (at that time).
Parts of Florida, particularly in the western Panhandle and the Big Bend region, braced for high winds, rains, storm surges and the potential for tornadoes over the weekend.
"It seems like this is going to impact all the counties that didn't have major impact from (Hurricane) Irma," Scott said during a press briefing Thursday at the Bay County Emergency Operation Center.
The forecast called for Nate to reach the northern Gulf Coast over the weekend as a Category 1 hurricane. Residents from Louisiana through the Florida Panhandle were advised to monitor its progress.
"There have been many years where Florida has had multiple storms in one hurricane season," Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said. "So don't think we've already checked the box for 2017."
Florida went more than a decade without a direct hit by a hurricane but in the past 13 months has felt the impact of three named storms, including Irma.
Scott said the state of emergency will allow counties to work with each other, the state and federal governments to ensure needed resources are available for the possible impacts of the storm.
The measure would also allow for tolls to be lifted, the suspension of state entry rules on commercial vehicles involved in relief efforts and for local governments to waive rules regarding contracts and the hiring of temporary and full-time employees.
With seaports, utilities and the state Department of Transportation monitoring the storm, Scott said up to 7,000 members of the Florida National Guard can be deployed. The state has about 400 guard members assisting with the removal of debris from Irma in the Keys.
Scott said preparations were needed as Nate could stall in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, intensifying and changing course.
"In Florida, we always prepare for the worst," Scott said on Thursday. "While the track seems to be shifting west, we can't take any chances."
The 29 counties in Thursday's order were already under a pair of other hurricane-related states of emergency. Scott on Monday imposed a 60-day statewide emergency to help accommodate people from Puerto Rico who relocate to Florida due to Hurricane Maria. An executive order on Sept. 4 placed all 67 counties under a state of emergency for 60 days in advance of Irma.