UPDATE: Will Hermine be Florida's first hurricane in 11 Years? - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Will Hermine be Florida's first hurricane in 11 Years?

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BY F. BRINLEY BRUTON, NBC News

(NBC News) - Florida was bracing for what the governor is calling a "life-threatening" tropical storm that could make landfall as a hurricane. The last hurricane to make landfall in the state, Wilma, did so 11 years ago.

As of 11 a.m. ET, Hermine was centered about 195 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola, Florida. It is expected to make landfall around midnight Thursday.

TRACK THE STORM | Channel 3 Hurricane Tracker

Gov. Rick Scott put 51 Florida counties under a state of emergency, and ordered state government offices in those counties closed by noon Thursday — including in the capital, Tallahassee.

Whether Hermine lands as a tropical storm or a hurricane, it's expected to bring forceful winds, up to 15 inches of rain in parts of the state, and flooding.

In an afternoon press conference, Scott gave a stern warning to residents.

"You still have time to prepare," he said, urging Floridians to have three days of food and water on hand and to charge cell phones and have batteries available. "Bottom line: It's life-threatening."

Hermine threatens to bring a storm surge of up to 9 feet in Florida, as well as dangerous rip currents along the East Coast.

The Weather Channel's Kevin Roth advised people in its path to prepare to leave if necessary.

"Residents in Florida need to pay attention to the latest that Hermine is doing," he said early Thursday. They should be preparing now because evacuations could begin this morning — they don't want to be preparing in the dark."

So-called Tropical Depression 9 strengthened into Tropical Storm Hermine in the Gulf of Mexico late Wednesday.

As of 11 a.m. ET, Hermine was centered about 195 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola, Florida. Hurricane and tropical storm warnings and watches were in effect for northwest Florida, parts of Georgia and the southeast corner of Alabama.

"Residents in Florida need to pay attention to the latest that Hermine is doing," he said early Thursday. They should be preparing now because evacuations could begin this morning — they don't want to be preparing in the dark."

So-called Tropical Depression 9 strengthened into Tropical Storm Hermine in the Gulf of Mexico late Wednesday.

Hurricane and tropical storm warnings and watches were in effect for northwest Florida, southwest Georgia and the southeast corner of Alabama.

With 42 Florida counties in a state of emergency, the storm was expected to dump up to 15 inches of rain on parts of the state.

Hermine, which could still strengthen into a hurricane, was expected to make landfall late Thursday. It was likely to then travel up the coast — perhaps as far as Boston by Monday, forecasters warned.

"The risk we have right now is we know we're going to have storm surge," Florida Gov. Rick Scott said at a press conference on Wednesday. "It is anticipated to be three to five feet, however, we have the risk of it being up to 9 feet."

NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins warned that Hermine had "24 hours to make a run at ending Florida's 11-year hurricane drought. It should be a close call."

He added: "The other concern late today and during the landfall are weak tornadoes that can spin up [northeast] and east of the landfall."

Parts of Georgia and the Carolinas could see up to 7 inches of rainfall as the storm moved north.

Hermine was also expected to continue to threaten the East Coast well into the Labor Day, creating dangerous rip currents into the weekend.

"It could be a very lousy holiday weekend for a large part of the population," Roth added.

Meanwhile in Hawaii, Hurricane Madeline was downgraded to a tropical storm and skirted the island. Heavy rains hits parts of Hawaii and strong waves pummeled shorelines as the still-powerful Pacific storm passed.

President Barack Obama asked fellow Hawaiians to heed the advice of officials ahead of an expected one-two punch of Tropical Storm Madeline and Hurricane Lester.

"We've been working with the governor and FEMA to make sure Hawaii's got everything it needs to keep our folks safe," he said at the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders in Oahu — almost 200 miles away from the Big Island. "I'd just ask the people of Hawaii to listen to your state and local officials, and make sure you and your families are prepared for the storms."

At around 10 p.m. (4 a.m. ET), Madeline was 175 miles south of Hilo, Hawaii, with 60 mph maximum winds.

"The Big Island of Hawaii took a glancing blow," Roth said. "It was nothing like it could have been — the rest of the island chain will not see impacts at all."

Though Tropical Storm Madeline was no longer a hurricane, the weather's uncertainty couldn't let Hawaii's Big Island relax. Hurricane Lester was cruising 915 miles to the north of the archipelago with 120 mph sustained winds.

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