5:10 p.m. Tuesday update – Polk County public schools will be closed Wednesday and Thursday in anticipation of wind and rains spawned by Hurricane Idalia and the need to convert some schools to storm shelters.
Schools will operate as normal on Tuesday, but after-school activities and athletics, including practices, are being canceled, schools Superintendent Frederick Heid said in an email sent to parents and school district employees around 2:40 p.m. Monday.
“This decision is being made because we anticipate significant weather on Wednesday. We will also need to be closed Thursday so maintenance staff can assess and repair any possible damage to schools and district offices, and we can return any schools being used as shelters to their normal operations.” Heid said in the email and a message posted online.
Charter schools and private schools in Polk County make their own decisions about whether to cancel classes. The Schools of McKeel Academy announced that its campuses will be closed on Wednesday and Thursday. Academy Prep Center said it will dismiss students at 3:15 p.m. today and will be closed Wednesday, but plans to resume regular hours on Thursday.
Idalia strengthened to hurricane force Tuesday evening. Heavy rains and winds are projected for Central Florida late Tuesday before the storm’s expected landfall somewhere along the Big Bend area north of Tampa on Wednesday morning.
Tuesday’s 5 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center showed the projected cone of the storm having moved northward with landfall expected somewhere between Cedar Key and Apalachicola.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency in 46 of Florida’s 67 counties, including Polk, and President Biden has approved his request for federal assistance.
Track the storm and get alerts
- Whenever a tropical storm or hurricane has formed in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico, the NOAA National Hurricane Center issues updates at least every six hours — at 5 a.m., 11 a.m., 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. EDT. For the latest storm track and projections visit the center’s page about Idalia.
- To receive emergency notifications from “Alert Polk” including tornado warnings, boil water notices, gas leaks and mandatory evacuations, visit http://alertpolk.com
Polk County is providing sand and up to 10 sandbags to residents through its seven road maintenance units on Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The locations in greater Lakeland include one at 8970 N. Campbell Road and another in Mulberry at 900 NE 5th St.
The county is opening storm shelters at 4 p.m. Tuesday. The four locations in western Polk are:
- Tenoroc High School — 4905 Saddle Creek Rd., Lakeland (pet friendly)
- Mulberry Middle School — 500 Martin Luther King Ave., Mulberry
- Spessard L. Holland Elementary — 2342 EF Griffin Road, Bartow
- George Jenkins High School — 6000 Lakeland Highlands Road, Lakeland
A special needs shelter opens at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Department of Health-Polk County Specialty Care Unit, 1255 Brice Blvd., Bartow. Residents who are pre-registered for special needs sheltering and who need transportation must call to make arrangements at (863) 298-7027 before 1 p.m. tonight or between 7 and 10 a.m. Tuesday.
The need for people who are pre-registered for the special-needs shelter to call for transportation represents a major change in policy. For at least a decade, county employees placed calls to all those individuals to ask if they needed transportation.
In connection with the opening of the emergency shelters, the Citrus Connection is implementing an emergency schedule on Tuesday, with most routes ending service in early to mid-afternoon.
Polk State College and its collegiate high schools will close at 5 p.m. Tuesday and remained closed on Wednesday. Normal operations are expected to resume Thursday. The college’s Student Activities & Leadership Office’s Welcome Week events for the Lakeland Campus have been postponed and are now scheduled for Sept. 5-7.
Florida Southern College has canceled classes for Wednesday and also all classes on Tuesday that start at 4 p.m. later on Tuesday. Classes that begin at 2 p.m. Tuesday will end at 4, rather than the normal ending time of 4:40 p.m. Campus clubs, performances and scheduled lectures are canceled through Thursday.
Southeastern University has canceled all Wednesday classes and all Tuesday classes scheduled for 5 p.m. or later. Normal operations are expected to resume Thursday.
- The Tenth Judicial Circuit courthouses in Bartow and Lakeland will be closed on Wednesday, reopening Thursday.
- Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine will be closed Wednesday and Thursday. In addition, Tuesday’s mobile food pantry at LVIM has been canceled. The next one is scheduled for Sept. 12.
- Bonnet Springs Park closes at 3 p.m. Tuesday and will remain closed on Wednesday.
- Peace River Center is closing all non-24-hour facilities at 2 p.m. Tuesday and they will remain closed Wednesday.
- Bank of Central Florida offices in Lakeland will close at noon on Tuesday.
- Parker Street Ministries’ after- school program is canceled for Wednesday and Thursday.
- Dream Center activities are canceled starting at 3 p.m. Tuesday and all day Wednesday and Thursday.
- Colt Creek State Park and many other Florida State Parks are closed.
- Saddle Creek Campground is closing Tuesday. All other campgrounds operated by Polk County remain open.
- Campgrounds and trails operated by the Southwest Florida Water Management District closed at 3 p.m. Monday. The district is canceling reservations through Friday, Sept. 1.
- Silvermoon Drive In is closed Tuesday night.
Publix Super Markets closed stores in the Tampa Bay area at 5 p.m. Tuesday as well as points north in the path of the story, but all Polk County stores remain open. See a map.
Lakeland’s largest health care providers, Lakeland Regional Health and Watson Clinic, remain operating under normal schedules.
Lakeland Electric customers can monitor power outages on an interactive map, based on data from smart meters.
- Price gouging is illegal. Call (866) 966-7226 to report anyone taking advantage of the emergency to overcharge for essential goods or services.
- The free, crowd-sourced GasBuddy app is available for download in the iOS and Google Play stores. In addition to showing gas prices, there is a fuel and power availability tracker where people can update which stations do or do not have gas.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hurricane Hunters at Lakeland Linder International Airport are operating two 24-hour shifts to monitor Idalia, News Channel 8 reports.
One crew will fly the Gulfstream 4 dubbed Gonzo above the storm, and the other crew will penetrate the storm with its Lockheed P-3 Orion.
“The reason we fly these aircraft is basically we’re taking the weather station to the weather,” NOAA public affairs specialist Jonathon Shannon told the station. The NOAA crews are also experimenting with the use of drones to collect hurricane data.
The Salvation Army is activating 15 mobile feeding units, and eight of them will be waiting out the storm in Lakeland before deploying to hard-hit areas around the Southeast. In addition, an incident management team is sheltering in Lakeland until it is safe to go into areas affected by the hurricane.
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