By Nina Cusmano
In the first week of 2016 hurricane season, a cluster of storms in the Caribbean is threatening to move into the Gulf of Mexico with the potential to develop into a tropical system and bring several inches of rain to the Nature Coast this weekend.
University of Florida meteorologist Jeff Huffman said there is potential for 7 to 8 inches of rain in coastal communities in Levy County. Although it has been a normal start to the inland rainy season, it has been drier on the coast and rain could be welcome in moderation in the coastal communities. In the past 60 days, Cedar Key has been in a 2 to 4 inch rain shortage, but the amount of rain on the east coast has been normal.
“Tropical storms can be blessings if they’re weak,” Huffman said.
The UF Weather Center cautions that heavy rain and flooding are possible regardless of the storm strength.
John MacDonald, the director of emergency management in Levy County, said the county has been preparing for a high amount of rain despite the uncertain storm track.
To prepare, MacDonald said he has confirmed that all county departments are prepared with equipment and staff for an emergency situation.
Levy County’s coastal communities including Cedar Key, Gulf Hammock, Inglis and Yankeetown, are prone to flooding, MacDonald said. These towns experienced flooding last year, but because of the little rain the coast has had recently, these areas are better prepared to handle the large amounts of rain.
“One of the things that’s going to help us out right now is we’re pretty dry,” he said. “Most of the places that flooded badly in the past from those rains are pretty drained right now.”
Residents of coastal communities can best prepare for potential flooding and high amounts of rainfall by moving any belongings off the floor to higher ground, said MacDonald, who also serves as the fire department chief in Inglis.
Sandbags are also a way to slow down water. The sand and bags are provided separately to Cedar Key, Inglis and Yankeetown when residents request them.
In preparation for the likely tropical development, MacDonald said the county has a sufficient amount of sandbags in each town. The sandbags will not be distributed to their designated areas until residents request them. The designated sand drop-off area for Cedar Key is across from the Market at Cedar Key on 7031 D St. In Inglis it is on Risher Street and in Yankeetown it is at the Yankeetown water plant.
“We could really use the rain here,” said Vicki Lowrey, a manager at Tony’s Seafood Restaurant on D Street in Cedar Key. “It has been so long since we’ve had a decent rain, my lawn’s crispy.”
She said a tropical storm could slow down business, but said in the past the restaurant has stayed open for people who did not evacuate the town.
Lowrey said the restaurant will probably put out sandbags — they have about 12 left over from past storms — if water begins flooding the streets.