A tropical depression continues to crawl toward the west coast of Florida on Wednesday morning, which prompted the first hurricane watch in four years for that part of the state.
Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in 42 Florida counties for Tropical Depression 9, which the National Hurricane Center should strengthen into a tropical storm during the day.
“By declaring a state of emergency in advance of this storm, we are ensuring that state, regional and local agencies can work together to meet the needs of our communities,” Scott said in a statement.
The depression is forecast to hit somewhere along the Big Bend area of Florida either as a strong tropical storm or a weak hurricane on Thursday. If it attains hurricane strength before landfall, it would be the first hurricane to hit Florida since Oct. 2005.
Heavy rain, storm surge, high winds and tornadoes are all a concern with the system. Rain was already soaking portions of the state Wednesday, leading to traffic jams in the Tampa area.
Storm total rainfall amounts of 5 to 10 inches are possible over portions of central and northern Florida through Friday, with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches possible, the hurricane center said. The rain could trigger flash flooding.
As of 11 a.m. ET, the depression was about 415 miles west-southwest of Tampa and was had winds of 35 mph. Once wind speeds reach 39 mph, the system will be classified as a tropical storm. At 74 mph, it becomes a hurricane. The storm was stationary but should gradually start to move again Wednesday afternoon.
Officials said that residents and businesses along the coast should be rapidly making preparations Wednesday, such as boarding up and sandbagging as necessary.
“The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline,” the center warned.
Tornadoes are also possible late tonight into Thursday morning, mainly across central Florida.
A tropical storm warning was also in effect along portions of the Gulf Coast, and a tropical storm watch was issued for the East Coast of Florida and Georgia for when the storm crosses into the Atlantic.
Meanwhile closer to home, Tropical Depression 8 continues to move away from the North Carolina coast. All watches and warnings for this system have been dropped.
Hawaii is also bracing for a pair of hurricanes: Madeline late Wednesday and very early Thursday, and Lester by Saturday.
Damaging winds, heavy rainfall, and high surf are anticipated Wednesday for the Big Island, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center said.
This level of tropical activity is not unusual for late August, which typically marks the start of the busiest part of hurricane season, with storm events remaining high through early October.
This year, government forecasters predicted a near-normal season with 10 to 16 tropical storms, of which four to eight would be hurricanes. So far, seven named storms have formed in the Atlantic this year. The season officially ends in late November.
Back in the Atlantic, the strongest storm remains Hurricane Gaston, with winds of 120 mph. It remains far out to sea, spinning hundreds of miles east of Bermuda. While expected to weaken later this week, Gaston could impact the Azores by the weekend, possibly as a tropical storm.
As if that isn’t enough, yet another tropical wave emerged off the African coast near the Cape Verde Islands on Tuesday. The system will trek west across the Atlantic Ocean over the next several days. The hurricane center gave the system a 40% chance of developing into a depression or storm within the next five days.