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Hurricane Isaias may stop NASA astronauts returning to Earth Sunday as storm bears down on Florida

Hurricane Isaias continues to build up strength as it heads for Florida this weekend, before tracking up the East Coast, potentially threatening the return of two Earthbound American astronauts aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon ship Sunday.  

Hurricane warnings are now in effect in portions of Florida’s East Coast and northward to the state’s Flagler/Volusia County line after Isaias – while still a tropical storm – destroyed parts of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico Thursday.  

Hurricane warnings are also ongoing in the northern and central Bahamas, where hurricane conditions are expected to continue into Saturday. 

(The orange circle shows Hurricane Isaias’ tropical-storm-force winds gusting at least 39 mph, while the small purple circle show gusts of at least 74 mph

A hurricane watch – usually issued two days prior to anticipated tropical-storm-force winds – is also in effect in portions of South Florida from Boca Raton to Hallendale County, reported. 

Meanwhile, tropical storm warnings have been issued from the northern Florida Keys to Boca Raton and inland north to Orlando. 

On Friday night, Isaias was listed as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds reaching up to 80mph and expected to strengthen as the night went on and transitioned into the weekend, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said. 

As of early Saturday, the storm was centered about 135 miles (215 kilometers) south-southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas and was moving northwest at 15 mph (24 kph).   

Isaias has the potential to disrupt the Sunday return of the first US astronauts to have reached the International Space Station on an American spacecraft in nearly a decade, according to NASA. 

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley blasted off from Cape Canaveral on May 30 on board a SpaceX Crew Dragon and are scheduled to splash down off the coast of Florida on Sunday afternoon.

NASA said Friday that their undocking remains scheduled for approximately 7.34pm Saturday with splashdown at 2.42 pm on Sunday.

Isaias' impact on Florida could prevent two American astronauts aboard SpaceX Crew Dragon (pictured) from returning to Earth on Sunday afternoon as planned

Isaias’ impact on Florida could prevent two American astronauts aboard SpaceX Crew Dragon (pictured) from returning to Earth on Sunday afternoon as planned

NASA won’t decide whether to postpone Behnken and Hurley’s splashdown until about six hours prior to undocking.

‘We don’t control the weather, and we know we can stay up here longer — there’s more chow, and I know the space station program has more work that we can do,’ Behnken told reporters in a press call.

The potential splashdown sites are in the Gulf of Mexico and along Florida’s Atlantic coast.

On Friday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for all of the state’s 19 counties along the Atlantic coast, while shuttering all beaches, marinas and parks in those areas. 

DeSantis said during a news conference Friday that Isaias was expected to hit Florida ‘as early as late tonight into tomorrow morning, with the potential to increase in strength to Category 2 [hurricane],’ Fox News reported.   

Miami Mayor Carlos Giménez said Friday that 20 evacuation centers were on standby that could be set up with COVID-19 safety measures, although authorities didn’t believe the shelters would ultimately be needed for the storm.  

Isias destroyed parts of the Dominican Republic (pictured) and Puerto Rico on Thursday

Isias destroyed parts of the Dominican Republic (pictured) and Puerto Rico on Thursday 

DeSantis said the state was ‘fully prepared for this and any future storm during this hurricane season,’ with stockpiles of personal protective equipment, generators, bottled water and meals ready to be distributed.

But he urged people to have seven days of food, water and medication on hand and said state-run coronavirus testing sites in the areas where the storm could hit would be closed.

‘Our sites, because they´re outdoors with tents, if it were to get 40-, 50-mile-per-hour winds, it would just collapse,’ he said. ‘Safety is paramount for that.’ 

In Daytona Beach and Polk County, authorities distributed sandbags and other officials advised people to have emergency provisions at home sufficient for three to seven days.

Isaias is expected to hit near South Florida late Saturday or very early Sunday and potentially land in central or northeast Florida Sunday afternoon. 

Florida then could expect to see some rain, wind, high surf and coastal flood or storm surge – of between three to five feet above ground – impacts throughout the weekend.   

Storm surge watches have been issued from Jupiter Inlet to Ponte Vedra, Florida. Life-threatening surf and rip currents are also being expected in Florida through the weekend.

Between two to four inches of rain is a possibility from southern Florida to east-central Florida between Friday night to Monday. Isolated maximum totals of six inches are also possible, according to the National Hurricane Center. 

It’s believed that Isaias will then begin to turn northeastward near the East Coast at the beginning of next week.  

The governors of North Carolina and Virginia both declared a state of emergency as well.

Isaias was expected to hit North Carolina on Monday, Gov. Roy Cooper told reporters at news conference Friday.

He advised state residents to stay with relatives or in hotels away from the coastline if possible, noting that shelters would be open as a precaution, but that capacity would be capped due to coronavirus precautions.  

Heavy rainfall is also a possibility through the eastern Carolinas early next week.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said he activated a state of emergency as a precaution, but anticipated the hurricane would affect Virginia’s coastal areas, too. 

It’s believed that after passing near North and South Carolina Monday, Isaias could then head towards the Northeast Seaboard, going as far north as New England by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Residents along the coast from Florida to Maine are being asked to follow the progress of Isaias and be prepared just in case.     


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