Even though Friday’s forecasts indicated Hurricane Dorian may stay east of the Wiregrass, local emergency officials will continue to monitor the storm’s progress throughout the weekend.
Dothan-Houston County Emergency Management Agency Director Chris Judah said local officials initiated preparations on Thursday for the storm, a Category 3 hurricane as of early Friday afternoon.
While most tracks indicate Dorian will turn to the north and east before reaching the Gulf of Mexico, National Weather Service meteorologists have not ruled out that it will reach the Gulf of Mexico before the trajectory changes. If Dorian reaches the Gulf of Mexico before making the projected turn, it could affect the area much more significantly than the rain showers predicted for the Wiregrass in a few days.
“They told us Michael was nothing, and in 24 hours it was a Category 4 storm,” Judah said. “If it hits the Gulf, it will impact us more. Regardless, we’ll experience some rain and thunderstorms.”
For emergency personnel, initial preparations included coordinating response resources with the state EMA office, Gov. Kay Ivey’s office, the American Red Cross and other first-responder groups. Judah encouraged Wiregrass residents to analyze their emergency plans and stock up on needed materials like canned goods, water and batteries in case Dorian approaches.
Meanwhile potential evacuees from the Florida peninsula – in Dorian’s direct path – have placed several calls to local hotels and the Dothan Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (Visit Dothan), said Visit Dothan executive director Aaron McCreight. Several have booked rooms for Monday, and those reservations may carry into Tuesday and Wednesday.
Despite the Labor Day holiday weekend, McCreight said Visit Dothan staffers will continuously monitor hotel vacancies and update the public through their social media channels, the electronic sign outside of their offices and through emails to the media.
McCreight noted his organization also has a plan in place in case Dorian approaches the area while hotels are filled – a situation that developed during Hurricane Irma. Irma weakened to a tropical storm before reaching the area, lessening its impact.
Since evacuees have begun to travel through the area – and the large music festival Gulf Coast Jam this weekend in Panama City Beach, Florida – Houston County roadways will be packed, Judah said. He urged residents to exercise caution while driving, especially if heavy thunderstorms generate flooding or flash flooding conditions.