Numerous road and bridge closures necessitated because of hurricane’s southwestern winds combined with king tide
When Hurricane Idalia arrived near Keaton Beach about 7:45 a.m. on Aug. 30, she became the third “I” storm in six years to bring destruction to Florida via the Gulf of Mexico.
The National Hurricane Center tweeted the following on X, formerly Twitter: “Extremely dangerous Category 3 Hurricane #Idalia makes landfall in the Florida Big Bend. Maximum sustained winds were estimated to be 125 mph. Catastrophic storm surge and damaging winds ongoing.”
However, unlike Irma in 2017 and Ian in 2022, Idalia appears to have had far fewer impacts on Sarasota County, based on preliminary County and City of Sarasota assessments released prior to the deadline for this issue of The Sarasota News Leader.
Nonetheless, the fact that tropical storm force winds produced by Idalia were flowing from the southwest at the same time a “king tide” was expected meant people likely would see an estimated storm surge of 3 to 5 feet — “water piling up” — as Rich Collins, director of Sarasota County’s Emergency Services Department, put it during an early morning Aug. 30 Facebook Live interview with Jamie Carson, director of the Communications Department.
“All of our low-lying issues right along the coast are having issues right now,” Collins added.
Water would continue to rise until the king tide event was over, he pointed out, and then it would recede “very slowly” as the day went on. He predicted that people would see flooding for the next eight to 10 hours.
About 11:45 a.m. on Aug. 30, county staff posted on the government Facebook page, “We have flooding in all coastal areas. Please stay home and away from barrier islands and bridges.”
As a result of high water, access to Longboat Key was impossible for hours from either the Sarasota County or Manatee County side.
At 4 p.m. on Aug. 30, the Town of Longboat Key announced the following:
“Idalia has passed Longboat Key but impacts of rain, wind, and storm surge continue to impact the key.
“At this time the island is still not accessible from the South end via Ringling Bridge and St. Armands Circle which are still closed due to flooding.
“At 4:30pm access only for Longboat Key residents and business owners will be allowed via Manatee Avenue & Cortez Bridges and Longboat Pass Bridge.
“Gulf of Mexico Drive is mostly clear of flooding although side streets are still flooded in low-lying areas.”
The City of Sarasota shut down the north Siesta Drive bridge to Siesta Key on the morning of Aug. 30; later in the day, the county announced that no one was being allowed on the Stickney Point Road bridge, either.
(In response to a News Leader inquiry, Carson of Communications confirmed that the Stickney Point Road bridge closure was “for the flooding in general.”)
Sarasota City Manager Marlon Brown reported that the north Siesta bridge was reopened at 4:45 p.m. on Aug. 30. However, he added, “We urge drivers to be especially cautious as some portions of Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue narrow to one travel lane due to street flooding. Many side streets remain impassible. Please use caution.”
County staff also warned the public that Manasota Key Road from north of Blind Pass/Middle Beach was washed out. “Traffic cannot pass in either direction,” staff posted on Facebook on Aug. 30. “STAY AWAY FROM THIS AREA,” the advisory said.
On the morning of Aug. 31, Carson of Communications reported, “Roughly 1,600 ft [0.3 miles] of road is damaged. The location … is between 6780 Manasota Key Road and Blind Pass Park.”
St. Armands Circle was so flooded that the City of Sarasota first prohibited drivers on the Ringling Causeway bridge. It was not until 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 31 that the city finally reopened St. Armands Circle to all drivers.
City staff warns of flooded streets
On the morning of Aug. 30, parts of downtown Sarasota also were flooded. For just one example, the Sarasota Police Department issued an advisory that U.S. 41 from Main Street to Fruitville Road was closed.
City Manager Brown reported that that section of U.S. 41 reopened at 2:15 p.m. “While the area was flooded,” he noted, “the newly improved storm drainage at the US 41-Gulfstream Avenue roundabout worked as designed, and the water receded much faster than previously.”
Additionally, North Palm Avenue had to be shut down because of flooding between Main Street and Cocoanut Avenue. “Please DO NOT try to drive through the water,” the City of Sarasota posted on its Facebook page.
At 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 30, the Sarasota Police Department issued a list on its Facebook page of all the city street segments that it had closed because of flooding. Along with the above sections, the agency noted the following:
• Main Street and Gulfstream Avenue.
• First Street and Cocoanut Avenue.
• Second Street and Cocoanut Avenue.
• Gulfstream Avenue and Palm Avenue.
At 7 a.m. on Aug. 30, the Sarasota Police Department also noted on Facebook that several vessels were damaged or had sunk in the Marina Jack basin at Bayfront Park.
Damage assessments and return to regular government operations
In a report to the county commissioners via email at 9:02 a.m. on Aug. 30, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis wrote, “County staff is making windshield assessments of the impacted areas. Coastal areas are still likely to see more storm and surge impacts as we go through the morning.”
At 6:15 p.m. that day, Lewis provided the commissioners an update: “Our windshield damage assessments continue and will continue [on Aug. 31]. We have some areas of significant damage along our coastal rights of way.”
About 6:15 p.m. on Aug. 30, City of Sarasota staff sent out an email blast from City Manager Brown, who wrote, “The City of Sarasota, fortunately, was spared. Very preliminary assessments conducted by our first-in teams at daybreak, as feeder bands continued to move across the area, indicate City buildings and facilities [fared] well. While the barrier islands experienced significant coastal street flooding as projected, with 5+ feet of storm surge covering the streets in conjunction with high tide around 12:30 p.m. today, the water has receded relatively quickly. Our emergency management team has been monitoring the street flooding throughout the day and reopening bridges and streets as soon as safely possible. We greatly appreciate their work throughout the storm!”
Brown further noted, “Public Works and Landscape crews were out removing downed trees early in the morning …”
“All in all,” Brown continued, “we are very fortunate.
“We’ll be on standby and ready to assist our neighboring counties who will need assistance in the coming days and weeks,” he added.
As county operations were returning to normal on Aug. 31, staff posted this update on the government Facebook page about 10 a.m.: “The Bee Ridge Chemical Collection Center and The Re-Uz-It Shop [have] reopened.” They are located at 8750 Bee Ridge Road in Sarasota.
The post also noted, “Wait times to enter the Central County Landfill may be longer than normal.”
As for power outages related to Idalia: Florida Power & Light Co. reported that only 31,480 of its 293,620 Sarasota County customers lost electricity this week.
As of 6 p.m. on Aug. 30, 3,420 of those customers remained without power. By 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 31, that number was down to 277.
A News Leader check of data recorded at the National Weather Service station at the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport over the past couple of days found that a 61 mph gust was reported just before midnight on Aug. 29 as heavy rain was falling. Shortly before 7 a.m. and again at 8:53 a.m. on Aug. 30, the data showed 55 mph gusts with thunderstorms in the vicinity.
At 1:53 a.m. on Aug. 30, the facility reported that 1.79 inches of rain had been recorded over the previous six hours at the airport. Then at 1:53 p.m. on Aug. 30, the report showed that another 1.2 inches had fallen over the prior six hours.
(More photos of area flooding are available on the News Leader’s Facebook page.)
Preparing for the worst and resuming services in the aftermath of Idalia
During a media briefing early in the afternoon of Monday, Aug. 29, Collins, the county’s Emergency Services Department director, stressed that, out of “an abundance of caution,” staff was calling for an evacuation of everyone who lives in Level A, which includes the barrier islands.
Collins also urged all residents of mobile homes, manufactured homes and boats to find safe places to stay.
The county’s evacuation centers would open at 8 a.m. on Aug. 29, Collins said. Because those facilities are at schools, the Sarasota County School District called off classes and after-school activities for Aug. 29 and Aug. 30.
Just before noon on Aug. 30, the school district announced, “Our traditional public schools that were serving as emergency evacuation centers have closed and are in the process of being cleaned and reconfigured to welcome back students & employees. All of our traditional public schools will reopen [Aug. 31] for normal school operations including transportation services, food services, and after school activities,” the notice added with emphasis.
In an email to the county commissioners sent at 8:10 p.m. on Aug. 29, County Administrator Lewis reported, “At last count we had 375 in the evacuation centers. We will continue to have staff activated overnight to handle any issues that might occur and to prepare for demobilization tomorrow. The evacuation centers will be active overnight.”
Additionally on Aug. 29, Mike Mylett, director of the county’s Public Utilities Department, announced that, because of concern about the potential impact of storm surge on a water line on Casey Key that has been threatened by erosion for years, water service would be shut off to that barrier island at 3 p.m. that day.
“If we would have a rupture on that line,” he said, “it would cause severe impacts for our system.”
(For a view of the Gulf of Mexico surf on Aug. 30 along Casey Key, watch this video that the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office posted on its Facebook page.)
In an advisory issued just after noon on Aug. 30, county staff reported, “Service has been restored to most Casey Key residents but a boil water advisory remains in effect.”
All county offices and operations were closed both Aug. 29 and 30. Originally, City of Sarasota staff reported that its facilities would be closed all day on Aug. 29, with operations resuming at 1 p.m. on Aug. 30. However, given the downtown flooding on Aug. 30, the city issued a new advisory, saying that its operations would be closed all of that day, as well. The post on the city’s Facebook page added that normal city functions would resume on Aug. 31, including garbage and recycling collections, utility billing, and the Bay Runner trolley route.
County Administrator Lewis reported to the commissioners that Waste Management would resume its collections on Aug. 30; service was suspended on Aug. 29.
Crews would handle Tuesday’s routes on Aug. 30, he wrote. That pattern would continue for the rest of the week, he pointed out.