11:45 p.m. update from The Post’s John Kennedy:
Hurricane Hermine’s path is now taking it east of Apalachicola, but horizontal rain and wind gusts topping 40 mph continued to pound the city through the night.
Streets were empty, except for Water Street, a main port area where TV news crews were shooting stand-ups, using a couple of fishing boats as backdrop.
Hurricane-force winds seemed to be steering clear of the city and there was no sign of any structural damage.
But the daylong rain only intensified late into the night. The downpour also wildly shifted direction, becoming blinding, at times – powered by the force of Hermine.
Parking lots and streets in low-lying Apalachicola were awash in standing water. Tree frogs, clearly enjoying the rain, and lots of it, kept up a cacophony that could be heard whenever the wind eased.
Update 11 p.m.: Hurricane Hemine was nearing landfall, the National Hurricane Center said Thursday night. The storm was about 40 miles east of Apalachicola with sustained winds of 80 mph.
Hermine gained strength Thursday evening as it roared toward Florida’s Gulf Coast, churning up pounding surf that battered docks and boathouses as people braced for the first direct hit on the state from a hurricane in over a decade.
The storm’s landfall was expected late Thursday or early Friday in the Big Bend area — the mostly rural and lightly populated corner where the Florida peninsula meets the Panhandle — then drop back down to a tropical storm and push into Georgia, the Carolinas and up the East Coast with the potential for drenching rain and deadly flooding.
Update 9:30 p.m.: With Hurricane Hermine targeting just east of Apalachicola for a late-night or early-morning landfall, streets in this historic oyster city were largely deserted by nightfall.
Winds gusted to over 40 mph and squally, heavy rain pelted Apalachicola through most of the evening. But hurricane-force winds still seemed hours away.
By 9 p.m., a couple of power outages darkened some neighborhoods.
Still, water rose at a bayfront park to bring boats, rocking at anchor, almost to ground level. On the city’s waterfront, the aptly named Water Street was marred by wide swaths of standing water, forcing TV crews — about the only people out on the street– to navigate their way to live shots.
Palm fronds and even a few campaign signs leftover from Tuesday’s primary were scattered in some front yards. But a few restaurants continued to serve a scattering of customers in downtown restaurants, although every other shop in the tourist and fishing town had been shuttered for most of the day.
Update 9 p.m.: Conditions are rapidly deteriorating along the Big Bend coast as Hurricane Hermine approaches, the National Weather Service’s office in Tallahassee reports.
Winds have started to increase near Tallahassee and there are reports of power outages, the weather service said. Tornadoes are possible from the bands Hermine , forecasters say. The storm was about 40 miles southeast of Apalachicola with sustained winds of 80 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in its 9 p.m. update.
Update 8 p.m.: Hurricane Hermine continues to gain strength as the storm moves closer making landfall.
As of 8 p.m., Hermine had sustained winds of 80 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm was 45 miles south-southeast of Apalachicola moving north-northeast at 14 mph. Hermine is forecast to make landfall late tonight or early Friday.
Hurricane-force winds extend outward to 45 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 185 miles.
The minimum central pressure reported by the Hurricane Hunter aircraft is 983 mb, the hurricane center said.
Update 5 p.m.: Hurricane Hermine is becoming better organized and is forecast to have 80 mph winds at landfall later tonight or early tomorrow morning.
National Hurricane Center forecasters cautioned that Hermine was an asymmetrical storm, with a “large extent of dangerous winds, life-threatening storm surge, and flooding rains, well to the east and southeast of the path of the center.”
As of 5 p.m., Hermine was 85 miles south of Apalachicola moving north-northeast at 14 mph. It’s minimum central pressure was 988 mb.
Across Florida’s Big Bend, many residents and business owners took Hurricane Hermine in stride – but also conceded they were worried, as sheets of rain intensified and the wind picked up toward evening Thursday.
Some reflected on the last time the region was socked by a storm. It was Hurricane Dennis in 2005, which caused widespread destruction when high winds propelled gulf water miles inland, across marshy lowlands and into homes and stores.
“What are you going to do? You’ve just got to ride it out and hope it goes a little further east of here,” said Carson Ulrich, owner of a gas station and store in Lanark, on U.S. 98, the coastal highway that hugs the Gulf of Mexico.
“The previous owner of this place got wiped out by that storm in 2005. No insurance. That’s how we wound up buying it,” Ulrich said.
He eyed the rising water at a boat ramp just in back of his store. Ulrich said he was certain he’d be flooded by the time he returns to work Friday.
I’ll put some sand bags at the front door. But around here, we’ve all seen this before,” he added.
In nearby Carrabelle, Ron Gempel, 73, grew up in West Palm Beach, but has owned a sandwich shop in the fishing town for the past dozen years. On Thursday, he and some helpers were covering the shop’s front windows with plywood.
Next door, the town’s only hardware store had already closed and sandbagged its front door.
“You’d think they could be open and selling stuff today,” Gempel said. “But it’s an old-time family business here. They know when it’s time to get out of the way of a storm.”
Gempel said there was little anyone could do but prepare, and cleanup when Hermine moved on.
“Anyone who chooses to live here knows the score,” Gempel said. “I can go kayaking right down the street some days. Other days, you’ve got a hurricane to deal with.”
With Labor Day weekend approaching, many in the area mourned the loss of business from tourists. Evacuations had already been ordered on St. George Island, a popular vacation spot, and many visitors weren’t sticking around to stop in neighboring towns, where the faltering fishing industry has given way to bike rental shops, latte bars and even customized dog biscuit emporiums.
Don Ward, who recently opened Slice of Apalachicola, stared out the broad windows of his restaurant at the rain pelting down on a street empty of most visitors other than TV news crews.
“We’re not going to close tonight,” Ward said. “What else would I be doing? Everybody still needs pizza.”
Update 3 p.m.: The national hurricane center says Hermine has gained hurricane strength with near 75 mph winds.
In a special statement issued at 2:55 p.m., forecasters said data from an Air Force Hurricane Hunter indicate that the storm has strengthened and will likely make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane late tonight or early Friday morning.
Hermine is the fourth hurricane of the year, and the first to make landfall in Florida in more than a decade.
The storm is about 115 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola and moving toward the coast at 14 mph.
While the center of the storm is not expected to break the shoreline until midnight or later, it’s winds are already being felt in Apalachicola and other coastal areas.
Tropical storm force winds extend out 185 miles.
Update 1:30 p.m.: Tropical Storm Hermine has increased its wind speeds to 70 mph as it travels toward the Florida Gulf Coast at 14 mph.
A special statement issued by the National Hurricane Center says tropical storm warnings have been extended southward along the west coast of Florida to Engelwood, including the Tampa and St. Petersburg area.
Update 12:15 p.m.: Florida Gov. Rick Scott asked residents in the Big Bend area of the state to finish storm preparations ahead of Tropical Storm Hermine and foretold a grim night of storm surge up to 8 feet, winds of 70-75 mph, downed power lines and street flooding.
“This is life threatening,” Scott said. “It will impact us from Tampa Bay to Pensacola.”
Tropical storm force winds extend out to 185 miles.
Scott said mandatory evacuations of coastal areas have been ordered in five counties – Franklin, Wakulla, Taylor, Dixie and Levy county.
Information on evacuation zones statewide can be found on the State Emergency Operations website.
Scott said fringes of the storm will begin hitting the coast this afternoon with the landfall occurring after midnight.
But areas are already feeling the impacts. In Pensacola Beach, which out of the cone of uncertainty, the Fort Pickens campground was evacuated when a new moon high tide and Hermine swell flooded roads.
Update 11 a.m.: The National Hurricane Center is warning of life-threatening storm surge and flooding rains with Tropical Storm Hermine as the system heads toward Florida’s Gulf Coast at 14 mph.
As of the 11 a.m. advisory, Hermine has 65 mph winds and is 170 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola.
Tropical storm force winds extend out 140 miles and storm surge could inundate the coastline up to seven feet above normally dry ground.
Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said the last hurricane to hit close to Tallahassee was 1998’s Hurricane Earl.
Earl made landfall near Panama City on September 3 as a Category 1 hurricane.
Storm surge from Earl was estimated to be near 8 feet in Franklin, Wakulla and Jefferson counties, according to an National Hurricane Center report.
Update 8 a.m.: The National Hurricane Center says Tropical Storm Hermine has strengthened to 65 mph winds as it heads toward Florida at 12 mph.
The storm is about 235 miles west-southwest of Tampa and 195 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola. The estimated minimum central pressure is 992 mb.
It is expected to increase in speed slightly and the center of Hermine will be near the coast in the warning area tonight or early Friday.
If it makes landfall as a hurricane, it will make history, becoming the first hurricane to hit Florida in more than 10 years.
Since Thursday, Hermine’s track has shifted to the west, leaving Panama City out of the cone of uncertainty, but putting Tallahassee near dead center.
Florida State University is closing campus at noon today. For updated information go to www.fsu.edu. Florida state offices are also closing at noon.
James Elsner, chair of FSU’s geography department and an expert on hurricanes, said Tallahassee can expect some flooding and power failure if winds are strong enough to topple trees onto power lines.
Also, while many students are Florida natives and may have experienced a storm before, he said some of his colleagues have been asking how they should prepare and what to expect.
“A lot of people have no experience with tropical systems,” Elsner said. “The National Weather Service in Tallahassee said to prepare for two days without power. I would imagine that’s worse case scenario.”
Elsner said Hermine is positioned to bring the highest amount of storm surge to the Apalachicola area, but much of the region where Hermine is aimed is not densely populated.
“Fortunately, a lot of the area is remote or sparsely populated,” said Jamie Rhome, storm surge specialist with the National Hurricane Center. “Hopefully no one experiences the worse case scenario.”
Areas of northwest Florida and southern Georgia could see total rainfall accumulations of 5 to 10 inches through tomorrow.
Forecasters are concerned about high tides and storm surge for this storm as the Gulf Coast of Florida has a shallow run up to the coast.
In Wakulla County, an evacuation of low lying coastal homes was issued this morning. A state of emergency has been declared in 51 Florida counties as the storm approaches, but this morning’s high tide is already flooding some Gulf Coast roads, even ones not in Hermine’s direct path.
Fort Pickens Road, which runs the extent of Pensacola Beach is already seeing some overrun as the tide comes in. Pensacola is not in the storm’s path or the cone of uncertainty, but a new moon is increasing tides all along the Panhandle.
For the first time, the NHC has issued storm surge maps that show how deep the water could get how far inland.
The National Hurricane Center’s 5 a.m. advisory says Hermine is expected to ramp up to 75 mph winds just as it makes landfall late tonight or early tomorrow morning.
As of the 5 a.m. forecast from the National Hurricane Center, Hermine had 65 mph winds and was about 250 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola moving north-northeast at 12 mph. The minimum central pressure was 996 mb.
A hurricane warning is in effect for Suwannee River to Mexico Beach. A hurricane watch is in effect for Anclote River to Suwannee River and west of Mexico Beach to Destin.
Hermine’s tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 140 miles to the east of center and should start hitting the coast this afternoon.
Hurricane conditions are expected to reach the coast within the warning area beginning tonight.
Preparations should be finished now before the wind and rain makes it to difficult to drive or secure your home.
Storm surge is a concern for areas extending from Pensacola to Tampa Bay. The following storm surge can be expected at the time of high tide:
Destin to Indian Pass: 1-3 feet
Indian Pass to Chassahowitzka: 4-7 feet
Chassahowitzka to Aripeka: 2-4 feet
Aipeka to Bonita Beach, including Tampa Bay: 1-3 feet
Florida-Georgia line to Cape Fear: 1-3 feet
The nearly 11 years since Florida last saw a hurricane make landfall is an unprecedented tropical cyclone drought in historic record.
It has been more than 3,873 days since hurricane Wilma bullied ashore near Cape Romano in October 2005.