A tropical storm warning was lifted late Saturday morning for western parts of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties but remains in effect east of Interstate 95.
The last of the “heavy” rainbands will pass over South Florida early this afternoon, bringing the possibility of tastes of 40-55 mph, the National Weather Service in Miami said. Heavy rainfall and flooding will linger through the afternoon.
The swirl of violent weather expected to form Tropical Storm Alex began crossing South Florida Saturday morning, keeping most residents indoors and stranding drivers attempting to plow through flooded streets.
The storm continued to produce maximum winds of 40 mph, putting it just over the threshold for tropical storm strength, although its lack of a closed circulation prevented it from being designated one.
Up to 15 inches of rain may fall in parts of South Florida through Saturday, as the large and sloppy clump of clouds rolls over across the state.
The tropical storm is expected to form only after the system has passed over South Florida and emerged onto the Atlantic Ocean. But its unusually large size, with tropical-force winds extending up to 210 miles east of its center, means that South Florida is in for a long day of heavy rain and high winds.
A sustained wind of 46 mph and a gust of 56 mph were reported offshore of Miami, according to the 11 am update from the National Hurricane Center.
[ MAP: Here’s the latest forecast path of likely Tropical Storm Alex ]
Flights by Hurricane Hunter aircraft could not find a well-defined center, indicating the disturbance had not developed the closed wind circulation necessary for designation as the first tropical storm of the 2022 season.
But flood waters made driving dangerous across South Florida, with high water slowing drivers on I-95 in Miami, stranding cars downtown and leading to warnings to stay off the road.
The Miami Fire-Rescue Department said it was responding to “multiple calls of cars stuck in the water.” The Hallandale Beach Police Department urged residents to stay home until the danger passed.
“Severe flooding in Hallandale Beach!” the Hallandale Beach Police Department said in a 5:55 am tweet “Residents if you can stay home please do not go out, most roads are flooded! Do not risk your safety or your vehicles!”
Several crashes were reported on I-95, as drivers attempted to get through the squally weather, from northern Palm Beach County, where a tractor-trailer crash blocked three lanes, to West Palm Beach, where another crash blocked three lanes, to Miami, where a crash blocked two lanes.
Although South Florida was awash in cancellations and postponements Saturday, some enterprises soldiered on. The city of Hollywood’s garbage collection went forward, with the city tweeting “Sanitation services are still taking place, however crews are running a bit behind as you can imagine.”
[ LEE EN ESPAÑOL: Sistema que se cree se convierta en tormenta tropical Alex comienza a cruzar el estado y amenaza con hasta 15 pulgadas de lluvia ]
Rainfall totals are expected to hit six to 10 inches in South Florida, with some areas experiencing up to 15 inches, the hurricane center said.
At 11 am Saturday, the storm’s poorly defined center was located about 35 milesnortheast of Naples, moving northeast at 18 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The storms caused scattered power outages but nothing like the massive shutdowns that come with hurricanes. By 9:30 am Saturday, there were 742 outages in Broward County, 903 in Palm Beach County and 4,009 in Miami-Dade County, according to Florida Power & Light Co.
But the risk that South Florida would see tropical-force winds, which means at least 39 mph, has declined, although the possibility remains that some areas will experience them, with higher tastes.
The forecast of the storm’s maximum winds as it crosses South Florida has been reduced from 45 mph to 40 mph. A factor in its reduced strength is the storm’s failure to develop the classic swirling structure of a tropical cyclone, a rotating system that ranges in strength from depression to hurricane.
“There’s no closed low pressure area yet, and that’s what we’re waiting on,” said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Adam Douty. “And now that it’s pretty much over land that’s not going to happen until it gets off into the Atlantic.”
Wind shear and dry air have prevented the formation of a deep, well-defined rotating structure.
“In other words,” the hurricane center said, ” the system has gone the wrong way in becoming a tropical cyclone.”
Flash flood warnings went up for parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, with 2 feet or more of water and stranded cars reported in the streets of Miami’s downtown Brickell area.
[ RELATED: Tropical storm warning: What’s open and what’s closed ]
By Friday night, the majority of southeast Florida had already seen 2 to 3 inches of rain, the National Weather Service said, with as much as 6 inches over parts of western Collier County, including the Marco Island and Naples areas.
Fort Lauderdale is expected to get an additional 5.5 to 9 inches by Saturday night, and Miami will see between 3 and 7 additional inches of rain. West Palm Beach could get between 4 and 8 additional inches.
Despite the expected heavy rainfall and potential for flooding, the South Florida Water Management District said the region is prepared to handle the storm.
“Our grounds are not overly saturated at this point,” said Randy Smith, spokesman for the SFWMD. “We’re in a really good situation, not that you ever want a storm of 8 to 12 inches of rain. But if you had the scenario that’s probably best to handle it, we’re probably there right now.”
[ RELATED: As heavy rain approaches, South Floridians are already losing power. Here’s what to expect. ]
All of South Florida remains under a flood watch through Sunday morning, the National Weather Service Miami said.
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In Miami-Dade County, the Biscayne Bay shoreline may see storm surges of 1 to 2 feet above ground about the time of high tide, according to the National Weather Service’s update.
The hurricane center predicted the system’s wind speeds will reach a maximum of 50 mph by Sunday evening.
The South Florida Water Management District is optimistic about its ability to handle the predicted rainfall amounts.
[ GET the latest updates on the tropical weather at SunSentinel.com/hurricane ]
The SFWMD manages water from Orlando to the Florida Keys, and has been lowering canal levels in South Florida for days in preparation of a possible onslaught of rain.
“We’re doing the same thing on the southwest coast as we are in Martin, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade [counties],” Smith said.
Smith said water levels are in good condition starting with Lake Okeechobee, which is at 12.5 feet, right where the US Army Corps of Engineers likes it heading into hurricane season. Smith said the SFWMD is like the “interstate of canals” when it comes to water management.
David Fleshler can be reached at email@example.com and 954-356-4535.
[ RELATED: Hundreds of flights delayed or canceled as tropical system blankets Florida with rain ]