Isaias strengthens slightly as it crawls up Florida coast

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People gather to watch the strong waves on the beach as palm trees sway in the wind, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, in Vero Beach, Fla. Isaias weakened from a hurricane to a tropical storm late Saturday afternoon, but was still expected to bring heavy rain and flooding as it barrels toward Florida. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Bands of heavy rain from Isaias lashed Florida's east coast Sunday, with the tropical storm strengthening slightly and forecast to be near hurricane strength by the time it reaches the Carolinas.

Officials dealing with surging cases of the coronavirus in Florida kept a close watch on the storm that was weakened from a hurricane to a tropical storm Saturday afternoon, but still brought heavy rain and flooding to Florida's Atlantic coast.

The National Hurricane Center advised at 11 p.m. EDT Sunday that the storm was centered about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Cape Canaveral, Florida, and about 365 miles (585 kilometers) south of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

It strengthened slightly earlier in the evening with maximum sustained winds just under a Category 1 hurricane, taking a north-northwest path, according to the center.

“Don't be fooled by the downgrade,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned at a news conference after the storm — pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs — spent hours roughing up the Bahamas.

Upper-level winds took much of the strength out of Isaias, said Stacy Stewart, senior hurricane specialist at the hurricane center in Miami.

“We were expecting a hurricane to develop and it didn't,” Stewart said Sunday. “It's a tale of two storms. If you live on the west side of the storm, you didn't get much. If you live east of the storm, there's a lot of nasty weather there.”

Authorities closed beaches, parks and virus testing sites, lashing signs to palm trees so they wouldn't blow away. DeSantis said the state is anticipating power outages and asked residents to have a week’s supply of water, food and medicine on hand. Officials wrestled with how to prepare shelters where people can seek refuge from the storm if necessary, while also safely social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.