Florida Keys News
Sandy's winds won't stop festivities, will affect sea

Based on the current general forecast tracks, Florida's east coast and the Keys -- for the most part -- are not likely to experience ill effects from the storm named Sandy, classified as a hurricane Wednesday morning.

Brisk winds and heavier waves in the Lower Keys and the possibility of some showers and tropical storm force winds in the Upper Keys, forecasters said, are the expected impacts.

Small craft were already being told to exercise caution, and those warnings should continue into the weekend. The Upper Keys remain under a tropical storm watch issued Wednesday.

So far, officials said they don't see a potential for interference with activities for Key West's Fantasy Fest, which runs through the weekend.

"All scheduled events for the remainder of the festival are to continue as planned," said Linda O'Brien of The Market Share, the company contracted to direct Fantasy Fest.

"We have been and will continue to work closely with local officials and the Key West National Weather Service office to ensure revelers are safe."

Monroe County Emergency Management Director Irene Toner said her office would continue to monitor Sandy closely, but that no protective action was anticipated.

At 11 p.m. Wednesday, Sandy was 85 miles southwest of Guantanamo, Cuba, headed north at 13 mph, with winds reaching 90 mph, NOAA said.

"The core of it is definitely going to be moving to our east over the Bahamas," said National Weather Service forecaster Chip Kasper, explaining that a combination of Sandy and other weather phenomena will make for the windy weather in Key West.

"It is autumn and we have an autumn weather pattern over North America; big high pressure systems moving over the continent, and we have one of those over the eastern U.S. as the storm moves into that area."

That means the weather over the next few days will be what Kasper described as "lulls and peaks."

In Key West, the winds over water will be an estimated 25 mph today, coming from the northeast. In the Upper Keys, winds could reach 39 mph, Kasper said, with the potential for gusts in the Lower Keys to reach that threshold.

Sandy -- distant and weak -- is in no way comparable to Hurricane Wilma, which hit the Keys seven years ago today. The storm surge from the Oct. 25, 2005, storm flooded most of New Town, ruining hundreds of homes, businesses and vehicles.

The 39-mph speed is considered a Force 8 on the Beaufort scale, a measure that relates wind speed to visible conditions at sea or land, used largely by mariners.

Force 8 winds mean moderately high waves of greater length with crests that break into spray, with foam blown over the surface in well-marked streaks.

Two cruise ships, the Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas and Carnival's Ecstasy, were scheduled to dock at Key West today, but officials could not be reached to determine if that would change. The Carnival Destiny was scheduled to dock at Key West on Friday but no information was available about that ship, either.

Scott Saunders, president of Fury Water Adventures, which offers parasailing, excursions on the water and Jet Ski tours, said a number of his attractions would be affected by the weather.

A sunset catamaran sail for Wednesday night was still scheduled, but subject to change.

"It is already affecting us today," he said Wednesday. "You can't parasail and you can't go out to the reef in this -- it's too choppy. You don't want to put people out there in that sea state."

Saunders did not estimate how much money his operation might lose, but said it would be noticeable.

"If you can't run tours, you can't bring a dollar of revenue in, and you can feel it," Saunders said. "Sunday it should calm down considerably and next week should be a really nice week."

jdesantis@keysnews.com

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