With Hurricane Ian’s outer rain bands already starting to fall in Key Biscayne, village officials say the annual King Tides have already overloaded village drainage systems.
And they’re expecting it to get worse.
Forecasters are predicting six to ten inches of rain over the next few days as Ian, forecast to become a powerful Category 4 storm, approaches Cuba. Landfall is expected Thursday morning on the state’s west coast, but conditions in South Florida will worsen as the storm passes by. Forecasters posted a flood watch for Miami-Dade County late Monday afternoon.
“Our system is fully inundated with the King Tide,” said Key Biscayne Public Works Director Jake Ozyman, who said staff recently completed a cleaning of catch basins to remove leaves and other debris. “Some of them, we actually cleaned twice.” He said standing water is already visible over the drains because the system can’t push back against the water pressing in from the ocean.
Brian McNoldy, a meteorologist at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science said he’d expect an additional foot of water from the King Tide to be on top of whatever Hurricane Ian produces. “If the rain comes at high tide, drains won’t work at all,” he said.
This hurricane season had been abnormally quiet until this past week, with several systems developing simultaneously. “This level of activity is actually fairly normal for September,” said McNoldy.
One bit of bright news: the village recently acquired a new high-water rescue vehicle to react to flooded streets and stranded cars.
“It has 16 inches of ground clearance,” said Fire Rescue Chief Eric Lang. Last June, the department made a dozen rescues, but the retrofitted vehicle means the department doesn’t have to risk damaging its regular firefighting trucks in storm waters, Lang said.
Village officials started a sandbag distribution at Beach Park, but are not currently contemplating the closure of government offices or services, Lang said. Miami-Dade Public Schools were closed for a teacher planning day Monday, and have not decided the plan for Tuesday.
At 5 p.m., the center of Ian was 155 miles southeast of Cuba’s western tip, moving west-northwest at 13 miles-per-hour. Maximum sustained winds were put at 100 miles per hour.
Key Biscayne has started an effort to combat sea level rise, costing a potential $250 million over ten to 15 years, that would include a network of pressurized storm lines and pumps. The first project, centered around the K-8 basin, is set to start next year. Officials view it as a test of how to design systems for the remainder of the island.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.