Walton County commissioners declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon even as Tropical Storm Karen weakened and looked to make landfall farther west.
"This is simply a precaution to prepare folks in the event Tropical Storm Karen strengthens," a press release from the Walton County Sheriff's Office states. "We are at Level 3 currently and anticipate the possibility of moving to Level 2 no earlier than tomorrow. At this time there are no evacuation orders."
The state of emergency allows the county some flexibility to make quick decisions in response to problems as they arise, Commissioner Bill Chapman said.
The county has asked public works officials to prepare for potential flooding. Heavy rains over the summer have saturated the ground, and any more could aggravate problems. They have three pumps ready to go if needed and have stocked extra fuel and additional equipment, Chapman said.
If winds pick up, trees in the saturated ground could be knocked down easily and cause property damage or power outages, he said.
Sheriff’s Office Maj. Joe Preston, the county’s emergency management director, told commissioners that the latest storm projections looked better for the county.
On Thursday commissioners authorized Preston to declare a state of voluntary evacuations for the county lying south of State Road 20 and all low-lying areas if he deemed it necessary.
Preston said what this means to the ordinary citizen is the county is asking them to voluntarily pay attention to the weather and trajectories of the approaching storms. If you are in a low-lying area that is subject to flooding, take precautions by going to higher ground, Preston advised.
He expected double red flags to be posted on beaches later Friday afternoon, indicating the Gulf of Mexico is closed to swimming. People who enter the water could be ticketed.
As for whether South Walton's temporary fix to 30A can endure the storm, Preston said that “is a good question” which he does not know the answer to.
"It just all depends on where the storm makes landfall," he said.
CORRECTION: This story originally stated that the county had declared a "voluntary evacuation order." The BCC authorized Joe Preston to declare the order but has taken no direct action.