Most of county sees minimal effects from Elsa

Emergency Management chief says tropical storm should be seen as a test case and advises the public to prepare for rest of hurricane season

A North Port street is flooded on the night of July 6. Image from the City of North Port via Facebook

Although the city of North Port did experience significant flooding, other parts of Sarasota County seemed to fare well during Tropical Storm Elsa’s passage along the shoreline, county Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane said during a news conference on the morning of July 7.

“North Port did have some extreme flooding,” he reported, having received 8 to 10 inches of rain overnight.

Shortly before 11:30 a.m. on July 7, the City of North Port tweeted that water had receded from most of the streets where flooding occurred. The tweet also reported that up to 12 inches of rain fell in certain areas “in a very short period of time.”

“A few vehicles have gone into water they should not have,” the tweet added, noting that city crews worked with the North Port Police Department to use special equipment “to help a few residents get out of impacted areas.”

Further, the tweet said, the city was using the Police Department’s drone to assess areas. “For now,” it noted, “we are looking good.”

At 1:53 a.m. on July 7, the National Weather Service at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport reported just 1.04 inches of rain in the previous six hours.

McCrane told the news media on July 7 that he had learned of no significant issues in the county or in the Town of Longboat Key or the cities of Sarasota and Venice, he added.

“We have completed most of our assessment of the county,” he said just after 10:30 a.m. However, McCrane noted, teams from the Planning and Development Services, and the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources departments were still engaged in an examination of the beaches. (That report was not available prior to the publication deadline for this week’s issue of The Sarasota News Leader.)

Not enough debris resulted from Elsa, he continued, to warrant initiation of the county’s contract for special yard-waste collections.

A City of Sarasota tweet just after noon on July 7 showed Public Works crews cleaning up roads, parks and other facilities. “No major damage to report, and most of the debris they’re clearing has been palm fronds,” the tweet added.

City of Sarasota Public Works crew members clean up palm fronds blown down by Tropical Storm Elsa. Image courtesy City of Sarasota via Twitter

McCrane also took the opportunity to remind everyone that, because garbage, recycling and yard-waste collections were cancelled in the unincorporated areas of the county on July 6, those collections would be running one day late for the rest of the week. “By Saturday, everything should be caught up.”

Additionally, McCrane said, inspections and permitting services are backed up because of the storm precautions and the July Fourth holiday.

Almost all other aspects of county government operations were back to normal on July 6, McCrane, added with libraries and Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) buses operating — and fares once again being collected on the buses.

The county website that day noted that all moveable bridges operated by the Florida Department of Transportation and the county were “again fully operational,” as the bridges had been locked into the their down position in advance of the storm’s approach.

McCrane also reported that the lifeguard stations on county-operated beaches were back in place, as those stands had been pulled back from the shoreline.

“We were very, very fortunate,” McCrane stressed.

Not only were county services — and summer camps — cancelled for July 6, but a ribbon cutting planned to mark the opening of the first segment of the North Extension of The Legacy Trail had to be postponed. The Legacy Trail event was scheduled for 9 a.m. July 6 at the Proctor Road beginning of that new section, which will end at Bahia Vista Street.

A county update issued just before 4:30 p.m. on July 5 said, “Please know that we are already working to plan another event to celebrate our progress in the race to completion of this legacy project.” (See the related article in this issue.)

Ed McCrane. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During the July 7 news media conference, McCrane also noted that staff was monitoring the Myakka River, as water rushing downstream “could create some flooding problems down the road.”

Further, county leaders were awaiting news of how the Big Bend area handled Elsa when she went ashore that morning, he added.

Members of the Sarasota County Fire Department were the first outside group on the scene in Mexico Beach after Hurricane Michael wreaked its devastation there in 2018, McCrane pointed out.

The National Hurricane Center reported in its 11 a.m. advisory on July 7 that Elsa made landfall in Taylor County along the north Florida Gulf Coast, near Cedar Key. The storm’s maximum winds were recorded at 65 mph.

Just after 1:30 p.m. on July 6, with Elsa approaching the Sarasota coastline, the National Weather Service (NWS) office at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport reported a wind gust of 24 mph out of the east. At 5:53 p.m., a 32-mph gust was recorded, with wind still out of the east. By that point, the airport had noted only 0.08 inches of rain during the previous three hours.

(The airport itself ceased operations at 6:30 p.m. on July 6 and resumed them at 6 a.m. on July 7.)

The highest gust the News Leader found in reviewing the NWS data from the airport was 54 mph out of the southeast, which was recorded just before midnight on July 6. At 8:53 p.m. on July 6, a 46-mph gust was noted, the records showed.

“The winds did not get to a point where we had to shut down [the Fire Department and EMS operations],” McCrane said during the news conference.

During a May 2018 presentation to Siesta Key Association members, McCrane explained that once storm winds become sustained at 45 mph, no emergency responders are allowed out on the roads out of concern their vehicles could be flipped by gusts.TinypaTin 

Plenty of wind and rain

About an hour after the July 7 news media conference, McCrane talked with Donn Patchen, director of the county’s Communications Department, during a Facebook Live event. At that time, McCrane did call Elsa “a concerning storm; lot of rainfall; lot of wind.” Still, he emphasized the “very, very minimal damage countywide.” Some downed trees had been reported, he said.

If people did not have their emergency storm plans ready before this week, or if they were unsure about what to do during a hurricane, he stressed during the news media conference, “Use this as a lesson.”

This National Hurricane Center advisory for Tropical Storm Elsa was issued at 2 p.m. on July 7. Image from the NHC

In his discussion with Patchen, McCrane pointed out, “The probability of us getting another [storm] between now and Nov. 30 is very high.” Nov. 30 is the traditional end of hurricane season.

Elsa should serve as a test for county residents, McCrane emphasized. “We are in hurricane season. This is an early start for us …”

McCrane also made a point during the news conference to remind people who are oxygen-dependent to ensure before a storm that they have a couple of extra tanks. When a major storm event is predicted, he explained, county staff will open evacuation centers and special facilities for persons with medical needs. The latter centers, he added, are stocked with extra oxygen.

Anyone with questions or concerns following Elsa’s passage by the coast may call the county Contact Center at 941-861-5000. Communications Director Patchen pointed out during the July 7 Facebook Live event with McCrane that the Contact Center had been getting more calls that day about garbage collections than any other issue.