Hermine Weakens As It Hits Florida Panhandle; Some Flooding, Power Outages Expected

By and | September 2, 2016

Hermine, the first hurricane to strike Florida since 2005, has weakened to a tropical storm as it moves inland, after threatening soy and cotton crops and leaving large swaths of the region at risk of blackouts.

Hermine’s top winds were at 70 miles (110 kilometers) an hour on Friday, after weakening from a Category 1 hurricane to a tropical storm, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an advisory at 5 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. The storm earlier made landfall near Saint Marks, Florida, and its center was about 50 miles northeast of Tallahassee on Friday morning, the weather service said.

Hermine is weakening as it moves farther inland across Florida’s Panhandle and southeastern Georgia, after largely sparing energy assets in the Gulf of Mexico. The storm should move into the Carolinas on Friday night and Saturday, according to the National Hurricane Center. Earlier, frozen concentrated orange-juice futures surged by the most since June as the weather system neared Florida. Hurricane watches and warnings were discontinued, and a tropical storm warning was discontinued west of Indian Pass, Florida.

“Bottom line is that there will be some flooding along the path of the storm that will cause damage,” said Joel Widenor, co-founder of Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland. “The speed of the storm’s passage and drier weather to follow will help to limit impacts.”

Widenor said Hermine will pass too far north to be a major threat to citrus. Florida is the second-largest producer of orange juice behind Brazil.

Terminal Closed

When Hermine first entered the Gulf, offshore oil and gas output fell as companies pulled crews off rigs and platforms. That trend reversed with the storm’s track toward Florida. However on Thursday Chevron announced it would shut its Panama City, Florida, terminal as a precaution, with plans to reopen the next day, Braden Reddall, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail.

There is a danger of life-threatening inundation within the next 12 to 24 hours along the Gulf coast of Florida from Indian Pass to Longboat Key, the hurricane center said Friday. The system may drop as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain across northwest Florida and parts of Georgia. Some areas could get as much as 15 inches.

Florida state offices were scheduled to be closed on Friday in 37 counties, according to a statement from Governor Rick Scott.

Power Failures

A storm like Hermine could touch off widespread power failures. Duke Energy Corp. has staged about 1,200 repair staff in north Florida, where the utility owner expects the worst damage to power lines, spokeswoman Suzanne Grant said by phone Thursday.

On the Florida Panhandle, Southern Co.’s Gulf Power utility was moving repair crews to Pensacola, closer to the storm’s expected landfall, spokesman Jeff Rogers said by phone. Another 100 staff are headed to the region from Southern’s Mississippi and Alabama utilities, he said.

Insurance losses from Hermine’s strike should be “manageable” because it will miss more heavily populated areas, according to Meyer Shields, an analyst at Keefe Bruyette & Woods in Richmond, Virginia.

Through the weekend, a frontal system across the northern U.S. may keep Hermine close to the East Coast, said Ed Vallee, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. Areas along the U.S. East Coast from the Mid-Atlantic states to the Northeast could see high waves and beach erosion.

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