Its projected path has shifted left and right. Its winds have weakened and strengthened. Tropical Storm Fay certainly has been fickle.
Yet specialists at the National Hurricane Center on Saturday were gaining confidence the system will hit Florida’s west coast as a minimal Category 1 hurricane on Tuesday – and put the Keys under the gun along the way.
The reason: computer models are coming into agreement, said Dave Roberts, a Navy meteorologist assigned to the hurricane center.
“The track could shift,” he said. “But there is consensus in the models.”
Forecasters predicted Saturday afternoon that the sixth named storm of the 2008 season would make landfall somewhere along western coast of Florida on Tuesday as a hurricane, said Corey Walton, a hurricane support meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
At 11 p.m. EDT, Fay’s center was located about 100 miles north-northeast of Kingston, Jamaica, and moving west at 14 miles per hour. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency because Fay “threatens the state of Florida with a major disaster,” he wrote in an executive order. That action puts the National Guard on high alert and gives state officials authority to order evacuations and distribute recovery supplies.
Despite Fay aiming in their direction, Monroe County officials said they likely will not order a mass evacuation of the Keys. However, they plan to order a mandatory evacuation of visitors beginning at 8 a.m. today.
As it churns through the Caribbean, Fay was expected to produce 4 to 8 inches of rain along its path – and up to 15 inches in isolated areas. The system already has become a killer storm; a woman perished and two children were missing in the Dominican Republic because of flooding on Saturday.
State officials in Tallahassee opened their emergency operations center, said Blair Heusdens, a spokeswoman for the state’s Division of Emergency Management.
“We like to have the executive order in place before the storm,” Heusdens said. “That way we can have our resources ready.”
Tourists and locals still packed downtown Key West on Saturday, seemingly unfazed by the approaching storm.
Todd Hitchins, 36, of Big Pine Key, about 30 miles east of Key West, said he planned to stock up on water and propane for his grill but wasn’t too worried.
“This will be good practice,” mused Hitchins, who said he’s lived here during much more powerful storms. “But you’ve got to be prepared, be ready.”
Jeff Emmett, operations manager at Fairfield Inn and Suites in Key West, said Saturday afternoon the hotel had no cancellations or early check-outs.
“Business as usual,” Emmett said. “Right now, we’re just keeping the guests informed.” Chris Celestina, 24, was sitting at the hotel’s poolside bar while on vacation with four friends from Pennsylvania.
“We’re not really worried,” Celestina said as he ordered a drink. “Whatever happens, happens. If we get evacuated, that will definitely put a damper on our plans, but until we have to, we’re not moving.”
Some Keys residents were preparing for the aftermath.
Andrew Cardwell, 26, filled up nine 5-gallon gas cans for his employer, Pirate Scooter Rentals, early Saturday afternoon.
“As soon as the storm passes through, people are going to want to rent mopeds,” Cardwell said. “We’re just getting it while we can.”