Calling Tropical Storm Isaias a practice exercise, Treasure Coast officials were reporting little damage Sunday evening from the weekend’s storm.
Those along the Treasure Coast went to sleep Saturday night expecting Isaias to upgrade to a Category 1 hurricane by Sunday morning. Instead, the storm remained a tropical storm producing 35 to 40 mph winds and gusts of up to 50 mph.
Indian River Shores, in Indian River County, recorded the highest sustained wind of 40 mph and, at about 1:30 p.m., the highest gust of 50 mph, meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Melbourne said.
In Vero Beach and Sebastian, before Isaias exited the Treasure Coast, peak wind was below tropical storm force at 30 to 35 mph and gusts to 45 mph, according to Indian River County emergency management officials.
Rain totals were expected to be 2-4 inches on the coast, and about 1-2 inches inland before the storm made its way northward toward Georgia.
“This was more of an exercise than it was of an actual storm event,” said St. Lucie County Administrator Howard Tipton in a noon update. “We’re never disappointed in that.”
While hurricane-force winds never materialized, thousands still lost power on the Treasure Coast. Florida Power & Light Co. worked throughout the day repairing sporadic power outages. FPL sent crews out in between rain bands and when the winds were below 35 mph to restore electricity as quickly as possible, an FPL spokesman said.
As of 6 p.m. Sunday, 1,840 FPL customers remained without power, and about 6,440 had been affected out of the utility company’s 326,200 Treasure Coast customers. Indian River County had the highest, with 830 customers without power as of 6 p.m. Sunday, with 3,750 affected. St. Lucie County had 410 without power, and 2,160 affected. Martin County had 60 customers without power, with 530 affected.
Shelters mostly empty
Indian River County was the only Treasure Coast county to open emergency shelters. Three shelters opened, with officials making sure everyone was socially distanced and wearing face masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
No one used the pet-friendly shelter at Liberty Magnet, while 38 people registered at the other two shelters, said Indian River County Schools spokeswoman Cristen Maddux. Shelters began clearing early Sunday morning, giving district staff time to sanitize and clean the shelters before teachers returned Monday to prepare for the new school year.
No one checked in with COVID-19 symptoms or who had tested positive, she said.
All three emergency operations centers on the Treasure Coast downgraded to lower levels by mid-afternoon, and expected to resume normal operations by Monday morning. Martin County’s emergency operations center closed by noon.
Many watched waves at beaches
Treasure Coast officials urged people to be careful, asking them to avoid going into the water because of rip tides and rough surf.
“When the surf is pounding, it is not the time to go in the water,” Tipton said.
Indian River County and Vero Beach closed their public beaches. Beaches were open in St. Lucie County, but officials advised people not to go there, especially to swim, said county spokesman Erick Gill. St. Lucie County lifeguards were pulled from their stands the previous day in anticipation of them helping with shelters, Gill said, but the shelters never opened.
But many people finished hurricane preparations early Saturday, and, with little else to do Sunday, hit the beaches to watch the waves.
Randy and Linda Thomas sat Sunday morning on one of the porch-like swings south of the Fort Pierce Inlet with their 7-year-old Jack Russell terrier named Lulu.
“We thought we’d come see the waves for a little while,” said Randy Thomas.
It typically takes them three days to prepare their home west of town for a hurricane, but they even didn’t put up shutters for Isaias. All they had to do was bring in their flowers and head to the beach.
“We don’t normally have the time,” Thomas said. “Today we have the time.”
People lined the windy South Jetty as couples walked their dogs, and families watched a pair of windsurfers perform acrobatic jumps over churning waves.
At Stuart Beach, David Hotwagner, 34, and a handful of his pals went Sunday morning to kiteboard in Tropical Storm Isaias’ 40 mph gusts and high surf.
“It’s like flying. It’s like you have superpowers,” said Hotwagner of Palm City, as he dismounted his board and struggled to catch his breath when he returned to shore.
“You’re set free, you can do whatever you want.”
Jerri Lang and her husband, Mark, were two of the many beachgoers in Stuart who watched the kiteboarders.
“We’ve been through some crazy times this year,” the 50-year old Palm City woman said. “So, this seems normal at this point.”
Dozens of people gathered at Conn Beach boardwalk in Vero Beach, watching the ocean while either resting on railings or walking its expanse off Ocean Drive near Jaycee Park.
Marian Farabee, 78, and Ron Farabee, 87, said this was their first time visiting Conn Beach during a tropical storm.
“I think we’re lucky,” said Marian Farabee. “It’s given us a chance to see it with a lower level of risk.”
Several people went down to the shoreline and kicked around in the surf, and a few ventured into the choppy water.
Sylvia Bishop, 38, and her daughter Tashyonna Wright, 17, both lifelong Indian River County residents said the weather “looks nice.”
“I don’t think it’s bad,” said Bishop, about Isaias.
Among the crowds of people gathered on the Conn Beach boardwalk, only a small fraction were seen wearing face masks, including Aleta and Phil Amato of Sebastian.
“We’re supposed to,” Aleta Amato said. “Now, with all the wind, if somebody sneezed…”