As Tropical Storm Isaac continued to churn in the Gulf of Mexico Monday, officials remained unsure of how the upper half of the state could be affected.
As of Monday afternoon, the storm was following nearly the same track as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and was expected to make landfall late Tuesday or early Wednesday in New Orleans as a strong Category 1 hurricane.
Gov. Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency Sunday and ordered residents along the Alabama coast to evacuate ahead of the storm, which threatened to pound low-lying regions with rain, seawater and fierce winds even if the state doesn't get a direct hit.
Bentley also ordered residents in southern Baldwin and Mobile counties to begin leaving at 8 a.m. Monday.
Though the storm is being monitored closely by the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Fla., meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Huntsville are also watching the storm’s path. Meteorologist Kurt Weber said if the storm continues on a westerly path toward the Louisiana coast, North Alabama would likely see little of Isaac’s accompanying storm bands.
“Unless (the track) changes and takes more of a right turn, we’re not looking at a threat,” he said. “At this point, if it heads into Louisiana and goes into Arkansas, any threat would be more toward Mississippi.”
The biggest threat from hurricanes and tropical storms for the upper half of the state is typically flooding, straight-line winds and tornadoes that can spin off from outer bands. In 2004, Limestone County was pummeled by rain and high winds from Hurricane Ivan.
Clint Romine, a 25-year-old firefighter with the Goodsprings Volunteer Fire Department, was killed in Lauderdale County when a tree struck the truck he was driving. He was on his way to Anderson to pick up a chain for a chain saw so he could help fellow firefighters clear trees and other hazards from local roads.
Weber said for now, the tornado and wind threat is low, though that could change if the storm tracks more to the east. North Alabama will experience rain and storms this week, however, from a weak front expected to stall over the region. The severe weather threat from the front will be low, Weber said, though heavy rain and lightning could be a factor.
A helping hand
Anticipating the possibility of damage and evacuations in South Alabama, the American Red Cross has mobilized units to offer aid to those who have been ordered to leave their homes.
Shirley Crutcher, district emergency service officer for the Red Cross of North Alabama, said three volunteers from Limestone County — along with other volunteers from North Alabama — deployed Monday morning. She said the mission of the volunteers will be to support mass care sheltering and feeding.
“They’re going to stop at our headquarters in Montgomery and then will go to Mobile to work in a shelter,” Crutcher said. “These are volunteers who in the past year had lots of sheltering training. They’ve been briefed on what to do … and we feel comfortable (with their abilities).”
Gasoline prices across the state have been rising steadily over the last few weeks, and Isaac may cause another brief price spike. A few refineries and wells in the gulf were shuttered ahead of the storm.
Clay Ingram, spokesman for AAA Alabama, said while he doesn’t expect to see major increases statewide, it’s possible that gas stations in evacuation zones along the coast may bump up prices in anticipation of a gas shortage.
“Closing the refineries is pretty standard operating procedure, and it’s better to be safe than sorry,” he said. “I don’t think it will have a huge impact because a lot of the refineries are operating at less than 100 percent capacity and it will be easy for them to catch up.”
Gas prices in Athens varied wildly on Monday, with the most expensive being $3.69 per gallon at the FuelZ on U.S. 72 west near Cox Road. The least expensive was $3.45 per gallon at the Wavaho on U.S. 31 South and Idna Nobbs Road.