HURRICANE HERMINE HITS FLORIDA’S GULF COAST
Tropical Storm Hermine by the numbers | 0:52
Hurricane Hermine is just hours from making landfall in Florida’s Big Bend area as a Category 1 hurricane.
As of midnight, the National Hurricane Center reported that maximum sustained winds were 80 mph. Landfall is expected east of Apalachicola, near St. Marks, after 1 a.m. Friday.
It is the fourth Atlantic hurricane of 2016, one that will bring strong winds, rain, storm surge and flooding to regions that already are waterlogged. Tornadic activity was reported north of the I-4 corridor on both coasts of Florida, with more than a dozen tornado watches and warnings issued Thursday evening. FiveFlorida counties were under mandatory evacuations along coastal areas.
The Gulf of Mexico’s warm waters and light wind shear enabled Hermine to strengthen as it moved northward toward the Panhandle and Big Bend area. Hermine is the first hurricane to strike the Sunshine State since Wilma on Oct. 24, 2005, a stretch of 3,966 days.
“Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 45 miles (75 km) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 175 miles (280 km),” according to the 11 p.m. Thursday weather advisory.
Initially, forecasters didn’t expect Hermine to reach hurricane strength until right before landfall, but the storm underwent rapid intensification Thursday.
Although Hermine was moving north-northeast on Thursday, the National Weather Service sent its tropical storm warning south Thursday afternoon, pushing the advisory down past St. Petersburg, Tampa Bay, Bradenton, Sarasota and Englewood. The Sunshine Skyway bridge over Tampa Bay also was closed around 1 p.m. due to high winds.
Coastal Lee and Charlotte counties are under a high surf advisory and rip current warning through 3 p.m. Friday.
Many government offices and schools in the Panhandle and Big Bend, includingFlorida State University, were closed Thursday and Friday. Entities in Georgia are following suit Friday. The USA TODAY Network has a team of journalists throughout the region to document Hermine’s arrival.
Rain bands from Invest 99L, which grew to Tropical Depression 9, then Tropical Storm Hermine and finally Hurricane Hermine, have been flowing northward into the Florida peninsula since last weekend. As the cyclone spins counter-clockwise, those bands are lashing out at Florida’s west coast. The Tampa-St. Pete region has been hit particularly hard with heavy rains.
The latest advisory says Hermine has maximum sustained winds of 80 mph and spells out the potential for “life-threatening surge and flooding rains,” and also extends watches and warnings for additional communities:
Hurricane Warning: Suwannee River (FL) to Mexico Beach (FL)
Hurricane Watch: Anclote River (FL) to Suwannee River (FL); Mexico Beach (FL) to Walton/Bay County line (FL)
Tropical Storm Warning: Englewood (FL) to Suwannee River (FL); Mexico Beach (FL) to Walton/Bay County line (FL); Flagler/Volusia County line (FL) to Duck (NC); Pamlico Sound (NC); Albemarle Sounds (NC)
Tropical Storm Watch: Duck (NC) to Sandy Hook (NJ); Chesapeake Bay (MD, VA) to Smith Point (NY); Southern Delaware Bay (DE)
According to The Weather Channel, an estimated 24.8 million people are under some type of weather advisory.
The area bracing for Hermine’s landfall is no stranger to tropical devastation.Hurricane Kate wreaked havoc on Tallahassee and surrounding communities in 1985.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday declared a state of emergency for 51 of Florida’s 67 Florida counties, the furthest south being Sarasota. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 56 counties in that state.
“if you need to go to a shelter, go now,” Scott urged residents in Hermine’s path during a noon Thursday press conference.
The last hurricane to make landfall in Florida was almost 11 years ago, Florida’s longest hurricane drought in more than a century. The most recent hurricane, Wilma, killed 5 people and caused $20 billion in damages in the U.S.
Scott urged Floridians not to take the hurricane lightly, even it’s just a Category 1 storm. Wind, storm surge and flooding pose serious risks.
“Bottom line, it’s life-threatening,” Scott said.
For the past few days, portions of Southwest Florida have seen sudden downpours and gusty winds associated with Hermine. As the storm moves north through the Gulf of Mexico, the National Hurricane Center cautions that sizable levels of storm surge can be expected.
Water levels could reach the following heights above ground if the peak surge occurs at the time of high tide:
Destin to Indian Pass: 1 to 3 feet
Indian Pass to Ochlockonee River: 4 to 7 feet
Ochlockonee River to Yankeetown: 6 to 9 feet
Yankeetown to Aripeka: 4 to 7 feet
Keaton Beach to Chassahowitzka to: 4 to 7 feet
Aripeka to Longboat Key (Including Tampa Bay): 2 to 4 feet
Aripeka to Bonita Beach: 1 to 3 feet
Florida-Georgia line to Tidewater of Virginia: 1 to 3 feet