Check this space for the latest information regarding announcements related to Hurricane Irma.

WEDNESDAY

Florida Department of Environmental Protection  announces state park closures

The Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service announces the closure of 11 state parks in the Florida Keys due to imminent weather conditions including strong winds and rain. Preparations are being made to close an additional 24 parks Friday. Parks on Monroe County are closed until further notice. Parks in Martin, St. Lucie, Dade, Lee, Charlotte, Collier and Broward Counties will close on Friday. For a complete list of parks, visit floridastateparks.org. 

Nelson, Rubio seek funds for Irma recovery

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) are calling on Senate leaders to include additional funding in a $7.85 billion disaster aid package the House passed earlier today for Hurricane Harvey to “account for the additional costs FEMA will likely incur responding to Hurricane Irma.”

“Hurricane Irma is now one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean and is currently on track to make landfall in South Florida as early as Sunday,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter today to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles Schumer. “This massive category-5 storm has the potential to cause catastrophic destruction throughout the state and we are deeply concerned that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will not have the resources it needs to respond if Congress doesn’t act soon.”

Walton County to discuss Hurricane Irma

The Walton County Commission will hold an emergency meeting Friday for the purpose of hearing a Hurricane Irma update from the county’s Emergency Management Department, a news release said.

Commissioners could “possibly declare a local state of emergency due to potential flooding and strong wind damage,” the release said.

The meeting will immediately follow an 8 a.m. special meeting at which commissioners will receive Florida Sunshine Law, public records and ethics training, the release said.

Both meetings will be held at the Walton County Courthouse on U.S. Highway 90 in DeFuniak Springs.

City of Destin suspends Joe's Bayou launch fees

Effective immediately, the City of Destin is suspending launch fees at the Joe's Bayou boat ramp to assist in the removal of vessels from the water in anticipation of Hurricane Irma impacting Northwest Florida. The fee suspension will remain in effect until the threat of the storm is over.

Walton county emergency management director: 'We are cautiously optimistic'

WALTON COUNTY — Walton County Emergency Management Director Jeff Goldberg said Wednesday morning he is ‘cautiously optimistic’ about Hurricane Irma after morning models showed the monster Category 5 storm tracking slightly to the east.  

Latest models from the National Hurricane Center show the hurricane taking a sharp northern turn over Cuba on Saturday morning and heading towards the eastern Florida peninsula. The models show landfall could hit southeastern Florida as early as Sunday morning.

“The track has shifted slightly east, which means the chances of us getting any effects or getting the storm has decreased slightly,” Goldberg said. “But as we know from previous storms, particularly Hurricane Charley, these things could swing at the last minute.”

Hurricane Charley formed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2004 before entering the Gulf of Mexico and seemingly heading for landfall in the Tampa Bay area. However, after rapidly gaining strength in the Gulf of Mexico, Charley quickly shifted paths and made landfall in the Port Charlotte area instead, catching several thousand residents unprepared.  

“We are still very much keeping an eye on [Irma],” Goldberg said. “We haven’t decreased our operational tempo, and we’re still doing our conference calls [with state emergency officials] and our partner agencies, as well as keeping an eye on supplies in the stores and fuel throughout the county.”

Goldberg added he has been urging residents to be prepared for a potential storm since hurricane season began June 1, and if more people had been prepared there might not be shortages of water and fuel throughout the panhandle.

“We’ve been driving the preparedness message home, and this is the primary reason of why we want folks to prepare before hurricane season so they’re not scrambling when a storm is already out there in the Atlantic and may or may not make landfall here,” he said.  

He said Walton county is preparing possible hurricane host shelters in case evacuees from other parts of the state need to evacuate to Northwest Florida.

Use caution driving in stormy conditions

TAMPA — Hurricane Irma projected path has caused Governor Scott to declare a state of emergency in all 67 counties in Florida. The storm will bring heavy rains and strong winds, which create dangerous driving conditions, with little to no visibility. AAA urges motorists to heed official warnings and stay off the roads, if possible.

AAA offers the following safety tips:

Check traffic and weather conditions before heading out.

Pack an emergency kit in your vehicle, which includes a flashlight with extra batteries; a first-aid kit; drinking water; mobile phone and car charger; extra snacks/food for your travelers and any pets; battery booster cables; and emergency flares or reflectors.

Have a full tank of gas.

Always wear your seat belt.

Rainy conditions can cause low visibility: Turn on your headlights to help you see better and to allow other motorists to spot you better. Avoid using your high beams because you could blind other drivers and the extra light will reflect off the rain, causing more of a distraction for you.

If you can’t see the edges of the road or other vehicles at a safe distance while driving during wet weather, pull of the road as far as you can and wait for the rain to ease up. Make sure to turn on emergency flashers to alert other drivers.

Avoid standing water and flooded roads at all times. There is no way to tell how deep standing water is on a flooded road and driving through it can cause a vehicle to stall and result in severe damage to the vehicle from:

Flooding the engine

Warping brake rotors

Loss of power steering

Short in electrical components

If your vehicle stalls in a flooded area, do not remain in the car. Abandon it as soon as possible and seek higher ground. Flood waters can elevate quickly, sweeping away the vehicle and its occupants.

Roads closures also apply to our tow truck drivers as safety is the key for everyone.

Drive distraction-free. Do not text or engage in distracting activities while driving, including interacting with a cell phone, talking with passengers or looking at other objects in the vehicle.

Comply with the Move Over Law. Observe the Move Over Law when law enforcement or emergency vehicles are on the side of the road. Change lanes or slow down to give sufficient clearance. This is the law in all 50 states.

Pull out of the traffic lanes if your car breaks down. If faced with a vehicle emergency, safely steer your car off the roadway. Turn on the emergency flashers to alert other drivers and exit the vehicle on the side facing away from traffic if possible. Once everyone is in a safe location, request assistance from a road service provider.

If you find yourself in an unsafe situation, please contact law enforcement.

Traffic Signal Blackout: If traffic signal lights are not working due to power failure, you must stop at the intersection and then proceed when you know other turning and approaching vehicles, bicycles, or pedestrians have stopped. A blacked-out traffic signal works the same as a four-way stop intersection.

Tips for Driving Safely in Strong Winds

Anticipate gusts - Pay attention when driving through areas prone to strong winds or when weather reports forecast severe weather.

Firmly grip the steering wheel. Know your vehicle, light cars, vans and other “boxy” vehicles are more likely to be blown by strong gusts of wind.

Increase space between your vehicle and other motorists, especially vans, recreational vehicles and cars pulling trailers which may be adversely affected by the wind.

Drive in these conditions only when absolutely necessary.

Whether you’re at home or on the road, knowing what the weather will be like can be crucial to protecting the people, pets and the things you treasure most. AAA members can now track weather events for free by signing up for WeatherFX Alert. Learn more at AAA.com/mobile.

Close your interior doors

IBHS (Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety) Wednesday offered a new piece of guidance to home owners preparing for Irma and other fierce wind storms: CLOSE ALL INTERIOR doors, as well as windows and exterior doors. The advice follows an intensive summer study at our unique research center in South Carolina that examined how a full scale single family home performed in scientific wind testing. Debris flies in a hurricane and if a window is broken or seals fail, wind pressure can build inside the home and press upward on a roof that is already stressed by external forces like wind, rain and debris. Closing interior doors can "compartmentalize" the pressure and reduce upward force on the roof. It's a simple step that could make a big difference in how the roof performs. This and other prep tips available in attached release.

President Trump signs emergency declaration for Florida

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that federal emergency aid has been made available to the 67 counties in the state of Florida to supplement state and local response efforts due to the emergency conditions in the area affected by Hurricane Irma.

President Donald Trump's action authorizes FEMA to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe statewide.

Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Debris removal and emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent federal funding statewide.

Justo Hernández has been named as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal response operations in the affected area.

Sand bags available in Santa Rosa County

Santa Rosa County is making limited supplies of sand available at no cost at several locations.

Sand bags are available at local home improvement stores for purchase (Hall's Hardware in Milton, Lowe's in Midway and Pace).

Bring shovels to fill and load your own bags at the following locations:

—Leisure Street at Citrus Drive in Holley By the Sea

—Tiger Point Park in Gulf Breeze

—Pace Fire-Rescue in Pace

—The corner of Pine Forest Road and Carroll Road in Milton

Key West airport to close

KEY LARGO (AP) — Key West International Airport is preparing to close as Hurricane Irma approaches the island chain.

Officials said in a news release that the airport will close Wednesday night due to the Transportation Security Administration's security checkpoint ceasing the screening of passengers.

The final flight out of the Keys, Delta Flight 567, is scheduled to depart for Atlanta at 5:50 p.m. EDT.

Miami's game at Arkansas State canceled

CORAL GABLES (AP) — No. 16 Miami's game at Arkansas State on Saturday has been canceled over concerns about Hurricane Irma, a powerful Category 5 storm that forecasters believe will affect Florida this weekend.

Getting to Arkansas for the game would not be the problem for Miami. Getting back to Miami would be the potential issue, and the uncertainty over what will happen with the storm led to the decision to err on the side of caution.

The game will not be made up in 2017.

TUESDAY

Tolls on the Mid-Bay Bridge will be lifted and remain suspended in compliance with Gov. Rick Scott's order that tolls be lifted on Florida road.

Daily News pay meter is turned off

On Tuesday morning the Daily News turned off its paymeter for the website. All content on nwfdailynews.com is available at no cost for the duration of the potential emergency.

Price-gouging hotline activated in anticipation of the storm

Attorney General Pam Bondi tonight activated Florida’s price gouging hotline for all consumers in Florida. The opening of the hotline comes as Governor Rick Scott declares a state of emergency in all 67 Florida counties in response to threats posed by Hurricane Irma—now a Category 4 hurricane that could impact the state this week.

“Floridians need to prepare now and they should not be inhibited by unlawful price increases on supplies necessary to brace for a major hurricane strike—that is why I’ve activated Florida’s Price Gouging Hotline and encourage anyone who suspects price gouging to report it to my office by calling (866)-9-NO-SCAM,” said Attorney General Bondi. “By reporting suspected price gouging you can protect yourself and your fellow Floridians.”

State law prohibits extreme increases in the price of essential commodities, such as food, water, hotels, ice, gasoline, lumber and equipment, needed as a direct result of an officially declared emergency. Anyone who suspects price gouging during this declared state of emergency should report it to the Attorney General’s Office by calling 1-866-9-NO-SCAM.

Violators of the price gouging statute are subject to civil penalties of $1,000 per violation and up to a total of $25,000 for multiple violations committed in a single 24-hour period, in addition to other civil penalties that may apply. State law also criminalizes the sale of goods and services to the public without possession of an occupational license. Violators of the law can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor.

Specifically, Section 501.160 Florida Statute states that during a state of emergency, it is unlawful to sell, lease, offer to sell, or offer for lease essential commodities, dwelling units, or self-storage facilities for an amount that grossly exceeds the average price for that commodity during the 30 days before the declaration of the state of emergency, unless the seller can justify the price by showing increases in its costs or market trends.

Scott suspends tolls in Florida

Governor Rick Scott directed the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to suspend tolls across the entire State of Florida in preparation for Hurricane Irma. By suspending all tolls, Floridians and visitors will more easily be able to prepare for any potential storm impacts, access important hurricane supplies, and quickly and safely evacuate when necessary.

Governor Scott said, “In preparation for the potential impacts of Hurricane Irma, I have directed the Florida Department of Transportation to suspend all tolls across the State of Florida to keep traffic flowing. They will be suspended for the duration of the storm’s impacts to Florida. Ensuring the safety of Florida families and visitors is our top priority and suspending tolls statewide will help people quickly evacuate and make it easier for all Floridians to access important hurricane supplies to ensure they are fully prepared. FDOT has been in constant contact with local districts and stands ready to provide traffic assistance alongside the Florida Highway Patrol and their law enforcement partners. We are continuing to closely monitor the developments of Hurricane Irma and will continue to take aggressive action to keep our state safe.”

The Mid Bay Bridge Authority confirmed it would suspend its tolls in compliance with the governor's directive. The tolls will be lifted beginning at 5 p.m. Tuesday and continue throughout the duration of Hurricane Irma.