TAMPA (FOX 13) - Hurricane Hermine will be coming ashore tonight, ending Florida's 10-year hurricane drought in a dangerous and dramatic way. Forecasters warned that coastal areas in the state's Big Bend area could see storm surge flooding of up to 8 feet.
Hermine strengthened to a hurricane Thursday afternoon. The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Hermine is continuing to strengthen, with winds rising now to 80 mph (130 kph) as it nears the Florida Gulf Coast.
At 8 p.m., Hermine was centered about 45 miles south-southeast of Apalachicola -- and about 105 miles west of Cedar Key. The storm is heading north-northeast near 14 mph and should cross the coast of Florida in the hurricane warning area later Thursday night or early Friday.
Meanwhile, a tropical storm warning was issued covering the entire Tampa Bay area coast, from Englewood north to the Panhandle. A hurricane warning remained in effect from the Suwannee River to Mexico Beach.
As it moved by, the storm's outer bands were hammering the coastal Bay Area with high winds and heavy rain. Gusts of 71 and even 78 mph were reported along the Pinellas coast, FOX 13 chief meteorologist Paul Dellegatto said.
In addition to rain and wind, storm surge is a concern along the coast, especially the northern Bay Area counties. The NHC says water could reach the following heights aboveground 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 Keaton Beach...5 to 8 feet
- Keaton Beach to Chassahowitzka...4 to 7 feet
- Chassahowitzka to Longboat Key...including Tampa Bay...2 to 4 feet
- Longboat Key to Bonita Beach...1 to 3 feet
- Florida-Georgia line to Cape Fear...1 to 3 feet
Most Bay Area schools were closed Thursday. Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties will also be closed Friday. Sarasota and Polk plan to be open.
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge was closed due to high winds, though its status may change along with conditions all night. Tampa was also closing Bayshore Boulevard in anticipation of flooding.
For more information on Hermine and other storm systems, visit MyFoxHurricane.