Calm Before the Storm as South Florida Awaits Arrival of Hurricane Irma

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Barely any traffic during Friday evening “rush” hour at a major intersection in Wellington that is normally busy. © 2017 Ken Braddick/


WELLINGTON, Florida, Sept. 8, 2017–South Florida highways saw only light traffic Friday after an estimated 650,000 people evacuated ahead of Hurricane Irma that was hovering near category 5 strength and was projected to slither to the west coast of the peninsula that could spare the heavily horse populated area around Wellington from the worst impact.

Irma had maximum sustained winds of 155 miles/250 km an hour and expected to clip the southwestern tip of Florida Saturday night then barrel up the west coast of the state.

Irma’s eye, according to current projections, would appear to be about 100 miles/160 km from Wellington that would put the major horse populations out of the hurricane zone.

The scene on Interstate-95 highway through West Palm Beach Friday. The 10 lanes are normally jammed. Courtesy Florida Department of Transport

The National Hurricane Center forecast tropical storm conditions by late Saturday and possible hurricane conditions in central and north Florida by Sunday.

It also warned “a few tornadoes will be possible beginning Saturday morning across south Florida.”

Irma is expected to produce 8 to 15 inches of rain in the Florida Keys, much of the Florida peninsula, and southeast Georgia, 4 to 8 inches …8 to 15 inches in western and northern Florida peninsula from Tampa northward, 4 to 7 inches in eastern Georgia in western South and North Carolina and 2 to 5 inches in western Georgia, eastern and northern Alabama, and southern Tennessee.


Gasoline supplies fluctuated in whack-a-mole fashion Friday as motorists filled up to drain pumps after service stations were re-supplied.

Trainers and barn managers visited by Friday were making last-minute preparations for the worst, insuring plenty of feed and water for the next several days and moving objects under cover that could become dangerous in high winds.

Wellington, home of the Global Dressage and Winter Equestrian Festivals that has spawned a year round horse community, otherwise appeared calmer than usual.

Many trainers and owners who evacuated their horses earlier in the week were at the Tryon Interntional Equestrian Center in North Carolina, a huge permanent facility that will host the World Equestrian Games a year from now. A dressage World Cup event will be staged there next week and an international 3* jumping event as a test for the WEG a month later.

Tim Dutta, whose Dutta Corp. transports most horses from Europe to the United States, said that the last shipment of horses flew into Miami Tuesday and that no horses remained in quarantine.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared Friday morning that “all Floridians should be prepared to evacuate. If you are in South Florida evacuation zones you need to leave” ahead of the “dangerous and life threatening” Irma.

All schools and colleges were ordered closed to become evacuation centers but a visitor to one school in Wellington was ordered out and told that no one would be allowed on the premises.

Deserted school in Wellington. © 2017 Ken Braddick/

As many as 1,700 state police troopers and 7,000 National Guard troops had been activated, many assigned to rescue duties, guard homes from looting and escort emergency supplies of gasoline.

Areas that were evacuated included tony Palm Beach island, 15 miles/24 km east of Wellington, and Jupiter Island, home of many of the world’s top golfers.

American Airlines and others were stopping flights into and out of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Myers and West Palm Beach airports Friday night through Sunday while flights into Orlando would stop Saturday night.

Electricity would be cut to parts of Florida for at least days. More than 100,000 people may need shelter.

Two nuclear power generators on Florida’s Atlantic coast, one near Miami and the other at Port St. Lucie, were being shut down ahead of the arrival of Irma.