All eyes were on the tropics this week as a tropical depression in the Atlantic became a storm named Fay, when wind speeds hit 39 mph.
As Fay crossed the Dominican Republic and Haiti, forecasters correctly predicted a turn to the NW and over Cuba. With no sign of weakening over land, Fay headed toward Florida’s SW coastline, maintaining 60mph winds, and leaving a wake of flooding rains as it made its first US landfall over Key West.
It was at this point, Friday August 15 Anna Maria Islanders were already on alert. With the rapid intensification of Hurricane Charlie in 2004 fresh in minds, disaster plans went into action. But Fay had different factors influencing it. An area of high pressure sat to the NE, and a mild front hung to the NW. The storm did not gain energy, and wobbled in the direction of Marco Island, south of Naples.
As its progress slowed and turned eastwards Islanders held their breath. Forecasts were predicting a return to warm gulf waters and a march up the west coast, possibly as a Category One hurricane.
That did not eventuate. Forecasters were again surprised when Fay actually kept going NE, making a second US landfall at Cape Romano, slowly progressing over the Everglades and slightly increasing in strength near Lake Okeechobee. The Suncoast began to breathe easier.
Meanwhile, Miami and the east coast were pelted with heavy rain and wind in the front right quadrant. Feeder bands spread out from the center and drenched a broad area. Anna Maria Island enjoyed light breezes, no rain, and cooler than normal temperatures. A few passing squalls and gray clouds were the only indication something was happening over 100 miles away.
By Tuesday it became apparent Anna Maria was out of danger, although wildly varying computer forecast models brought doubt as to where this storm would go next. By Thursday August 21, Fay exited the state and sat stationary off Flagler Beach. Current forecasts predict a turn back west, a third landfall near St Augustine, across the state back into the Gulf of Mexico, with a possible fourth landfall in the panhandle, perhaps back over water, and a fifth landfall.
Although winds have remained below hurricane strength of 74mph, incredible 30 odd inches of rainfall have been experienced around Melbourne, Florida.
Fay has become the most unpredictable and record-breaking event on record in the Atlantic hurricane basin.