Forrest County EOC Director Glen Moore, left, talks with USM President Rodney Bennett and USM Police Chief Bob Hopkins prior to a Friday morning briefing.

Tropical storm winds expected Saturday night

By BETH BUNCH,

Pine Belt residents can expect to start experiencing tropical storm force winds from what is now Tropical Storm Nate about 8 p.m. Saturday as the storm gets closer to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, according to Glen Moore, Forrest County EOC director. Moore spoke to an overflow crowd of city and county officials, law enforcement, university personnel and others during a 11 a.m. briefing today. 

Wind gusts will increase around midnight to 2 a.m. Sunday morning. 

“As of 7 a.m. Sunday, we are looking at 50mph tropical storm force winds with the Petal and Macedonia areas experiencing those for a little longer,” Moore said. “By 10 or 11 a.m. Sunday, we shouldn’t have any more winds in the area. It may be raining and gusty, but the winds should have died down.” 

He said as the storm continues to move to the east, the winds will go with it.

The storm is expected to become a Category 1 hurricane before coming ashore at this point somewhere around Pascagoula. But despite the storm’s current course, local officials are taking a worse-case scenario approach. Moore expects to have a much clearer picture of what’s to come following a Saturday morning briefing with MEMA.

Moore said the more the storm tracks to the east “the better for us. I’m not expecting it to strengthen to more than a Category 1,” he said, “due to the fact that it is fast moving and won’t spend as much time in the Gulf, thus won’t have a lot of time to strengthen.”

Forrest and Lamar counties are under a Tropical Storm warning as the three coastal counties are now under a hurricane warning.

Moore said the fast-moving storm won’t be here long. “The possibilities for flash flooding will decrease as the speed (of the storm) increases,” Moore said. While predictions are for two to four inches of rain, Moore thinks one to three inches is more accurate. The Pine Belt has been placed in an elevated risk category for wind and wind gusts. 

The Forrest County Shelter 361, located on Sullivan Drive at the Forrest County Multipurpose Center, will open at 2 p.m. Saturday, which coincides with the opening of shelters in Pearl River County and along the Coast. These will be manned by the Red Cross with the Department of Human Services assisting. These will be open until the storm threat is gone and in addition to being available for local residents who feel they need a safe place to stay, will also be available to those who might be evacuating from Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

Sandbags are available at the Forrest County EOC office and at Fire Station No. 2 (next to City Hall) in Petal for those needing them, 

Traffic along the Hub City’s main thoroughfares – U.S. Hwy. 49, I59, Hardy Street/U.S. Hwy. 98 – is expected to increase on Saturday as people start to evacuate the three coastal counties as well as parts of Louisiana that are under a mandatory evacuation. 

Hattiesburg Police Chief Anthony Parker said his staff has a plan in place and would continue to monitor traffic patterns and take any needed actions as they occurred. 

“I expect any big changes to come after we see the evening models Friday night,” Moore said. “I don’t think this is going to be a significant event.”