As Tropical Storm Gordon washed out South Florida’s Labor Day celebrations, the Gulf coasts of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana braced for a possible hurricane as government leaders warned residents to prepare for heavy rain and flooding.
If National Hurricane Center predictions hold true, Gordon may strengthen into a minor hurricane by the time it approaches the Gulf Coast on Tuesday night.
“This is not going to be Hurricane Katrina, but it is still a very dangerous storm that we need to be very aware of,” New Orleans City Councilman Jay Banks said at a Monday afternoon press conference. “Do not dismiss this.”
The National Hurricane Center on Monday evening issued a hurricane warning from the Alabama-Florida border to the mouth of the Pearl River near New Orleans. The storm was expected to dump between four and six inches of rain over parts of southern Alabama, southern Mississippi and northeastern Louisiana. “These rainfall amounts may cause flash flooding,” according to Monday’s 5 p.m. advisory.
Back in South Florida, the soggy conditions were a decided improvement over the 2017 Labor Day forecast that sent thousands in search of plywood, batteries and canned goods before Hurricane Irma smacked South Florida. Still, the hours and hours of pounding rain ruined Monday’s Labor Day plans to celebrate the traditional end of summer.
“We were planning a pool party-slash-barbecue and obviously that didn’t go too well,” said 23-year-old Julie Benitez, who joined her family at the Dolphin Mall after spending the day cooped up inside watching Netflix. “We had to make some last-minute plan changes.”
Tropical Storm Gordon also ruined Karla Gonzalez’s weekend. The 19-year-old had planned to go camping in the Florida Keys with her friends.
“My weekend went down,” she said as she walked toward the mall with her mother for some shoe shopping. “My friends were mad, but we just stayed at my friend’s house and played Monopoly.”
They escaped heavy rains Monday that prompted a flood watch and predictions of between two to four inches of rain throughout South Florida, with as much as eight inches in some spots, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The rain-slicked roads also contributed to the death of Alfredo Cobas, 47, who lost control of his truck while driving north on Interstate 95 at State Road 112. The Mitsubishi pickup spiraled out of control and crashed into a concrete wall off the express lane, ejecting Cobas onto the interstate, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Two other crashes clogged traffic around the main highways connecting Miami Beach to Miami.
More than 4,000 FPL customers also lost power as the storm passed through Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. No outages were reported in the Florida Keys. By 8 p.m., power had been restored to all but roughly 50 customers, according to FPL’s Powertracker page.
The dreary weather didn’t bum everyone out. Jack Graham, 25, and Katie McRobbie, 21, tourists from Scotland, spent the afternoon cheerfully shopping at Dolphin Mall, even though their plans to visit the Everglades got canceled.
“It’s not really that bad compared to what we’re used to,” Graham said.
By Monday afternoon, Gordon’s center had already reached the Gulf of Mexico. Tropical storm force winds extended 45 miles from the center of the storm, however, so Miami-Dade, Broward and Collier counties were expected to get 40 mph and 50 mph gusts until Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center said.
Gordon’s trek across the Gulf of Mexico doesn’t mean that sunshine will grace South Florida any time soon. The National Weather Service’s long-range forecast puts the chances of thunderstorms for Miami-Dade and Broward County at 40 or 50 percent each day through Sunday.
The Gulf Coast, however, may be in for worse weather.
Authorities on Monday evening scrambled to prepare for Gordon as it moved over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico that are expected to intensify the storm.
Schools in the Mobile, Ala., area announced classes would end before noon on Tuesday, with all after-school athletic events canceled. In the Mississippi towns of Biloxi and Gulfport, officials ordered the evacuation of marinas and harbors.
To the west in New Orleans and nearby parishes, devastated by Hurricane Katrina almost exactly 13 years ago, government workers hurriedly bagged sand to give to waiting residents. Some of the barrier islands south of New Orleans called for voluntary evacuations.
In New Orleans, emergency medical staffers began preparing a shelter for people with special medical needs, in case of power outages. Leaders urged residents to pick up outdoor Labor Day weekend items that could become harmful debris if washed away.
“Gordon will primarily be a rain event,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said.
At an afternoon press conference, New Orleans city leaders warned residents to clean their gutters, stock up on water and food and prepare to stay off the flooded streets during what was expected to be heavy rainfall. “We’re asking everybody to stay indoors. Especially, do not drive once we start experiencing conditions relating to this event,” New Orleans Deputy Police Chief Paul Noel said.
New Orleans residents weren’t taking any chances.
At the Circle K and Exxon station near the city’s Warehouse District, customers were buzzing in and out to buy water and fuel. Drivers waited in lines three-to-four cars deep. “All the pumps are full,” said clerk Raven Madison, 23. “We’re really busy. Seems like people are taking this seriously.”