Florida braces for 'life-threatening' Hermine, which could make - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Florida braces for 'life-threatening' Hermine, which could make landfall as a hurricane

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(NBC) -

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 1 p.m. ET, Hermine was centered about 135 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola, Florida. It is expected to make landfall around midnight Thursday.

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

Stores in Tallahassee were already running low on bottled water and flashlights by Thursday morning, the Associated Press reported.

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."

Colleges in the storm's path announced they were closing. The University of Florida in Gainesville canceled classes through Saturday morning Thursday afternoon, and Florida State University in Tallahassee closed its main campus Thursday at noon and said it would remain closed Friday.

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, parts of Georgia and the southeast corner of Alabama.

In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 56 counties, including parts of south, central and coastal Georgia. Even if Hermine doesn't make landfall in that state, the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency warned of heavy rains, flooding, tornadoes and power outages.

After making landfall, Hermine is likely to then travel up the coast — perhaps as far as Boston by Monday, forecasters warned.

NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins said 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."

Besides downed trees and flooding, the other risk Hermine brings to Florida is derailing the state's efforts against the Zika virus. Because Zika-carrying mosquitoes thrive in and around standing water, Scott told residents to empty any containers full of water as soon as it was safe to do so.

"You've heard the message with Zika. We want no standing water. Well, we're going to have standing water when this happens," he said.

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 it skirted the island. Heavy rain hit 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, Hawaii's Big Island was not yet entirely in the clear. Hurricane Lester was cruising 915 miles to the north of the archipelago with 120 mph sustained winds.

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