Every year on Aug. 20, Bill Gray, the Colorado State University professor who pioneered seasonal hurricane forecasting, would ring a bell to mark the start of the most active part of the Atlantic hurricane season. Gray died in April at the age of 86, but his protégé, Phil Klotzbach, remembered the tradition in a recent Twitter post.More
Update 4 p.m. ET Sept. 1: Hermine was upgraded to a hurricane just before 3 p.m. ET on Thursday, when hurricane hunter aircraft measured winds near 75 mph, the threshold for hurricane status. It is expected to make landfall in the Big Bend region late Thursday or early Friday. Hermine is the fourth hurricane of the 2016 season, and will be the first to hit Florida in nearly 11 years.
Tropical Storm Hermine is working its way toward the Big Bend region of Florida, bringing with it threats of storm surge up to several feet, heavy rains that could lead to flash flooding, and even isolated tornadoes.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami has issued a tropical storm warning for a swath of the coast, as well as a hurricane watch for a portion of that area. Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency for the winds and rains.
The Big Bend area, which was already hit by Tropical Storm Colin in June, is particularly vulnerable to storm surge. The vulnerability of it and many other coastal areas will only rise along with rising seas fueled by global warming. That human-driven warming will also fuel heavier downpours in tropical systems, and is expected to lead to the strongest storms becoming more prevalent.
Hermine has had a tortuous path on its way to becoming a tropical storm. Forecasters began watching it almost two weeks ago when it was just a disturbance. As it wound its way through the Caribbean, wind shear hampered its development. Wednesday afternoon, hurricane hunter aircraft flying through the storm showed that it had finally made the transition from a tropical depression to tropical storm strength.
It is expected to gather strength as it heads toward Florida, potentially nearing hurricane status before its expected landfall on Thursday afternoon.
But no matter whether it is a weak hurricane or a strong tropical storm, the same impacts will be major concerns.
Along the Big Bend coast, storm surge of 1 to 5 feet is anticipated, but the exact level will depend on where the storm makes landfall. The highest surge is generally seen to the right of the storm’s center, where winds are blowing onshore. The curved shape of the coastline can also exacerbate surge.
“Storm surge is enhanced with concave coastlines because water can be bulldozed onto the land more effectively ... it has nowhere else to go,” hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said in an email.
Rain and wind will be more widespread threats, covering northern and central Florida, southern Georgia and the coast of South Carolina. Rainfall totals could reach 5 to 10 inches in Florida, perhaps even reaching as high as 15 inches in isolated spots, according to the NHC. In Georgia and South Carolina, totals could range from 4 to 7 inches, though, again, isolated areas could see more.
Hermine is part of a recent flurry of storms that have coincided with the beginning of the normal peak period of hurricane season. The other storms include Hurricane Gaston, currently far out at sea; Tropical Depression 8, which just brushed the Outer Banks, and a disturbance that has just emerged off the coast of Africa and is being watched for possible development.
A major hurricane hasn’t hit the U.S. in nearly 11 years; no hurricane has hit Florida in the same amount of time. It doesn’t take a major hurricane to do major damage though, as Sandy, which was a Category 1 hurricane at landfall, clearly showed.
However, there are more people and property in Florida than there was a decade ago, leading to concerns of greater damage when any significant storm hits.
Residents are being advised to follow any directives from local authorities.