Florida Governor Declares State of Emergency Ahead of Storm

ORLANDO, Fla. (Orlando Sentinel/TNS) -

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Wednesday for 42 counties as the tropical depression that has been lingering in the Gulf of Mexico prepares to approach Florida.

The depression hasn’t strengthened as quickly as forecasters first predicted and Wednesday morning was “nearly stationary” in the Gulf, but is expected to reach tropical storm strength sometime later in the day.

Forecasters say it should start moving again in the afternoon and models show it making landfall late Thursday in the Big Bend area.

Forecasters say the depression, which formed Sunday, should strengthen and become better organized by this afternoon as it starts moving northeast toward the state.

As of 11 a.m., the depression was sitting still 415 miles west-southwest of Tampa with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Winds need to reach 39 mph for it to be upgraded to a named tropical storm.

The depression didn’t change or move much overnight, but is expected to shift later Wednesday into warmer water, which forecasters say is favorable for strengthening. The Hurricane Center said it predicts “steady intensification” during the next 24 hours.

If winds reach tropical storm strength, the storm will be called Hermine.

A hurricane watch was issued Tuesday night for a portion of the Gulf coast from Indian Pass to near Tarpon Springs. Forecasters don’t expect the storm to reach hurricane strength, but issued the watch because there’s “still a possibility that the system could become a hurricane before landfall,” according to the Hurricane Center.

Much of the Panhandle to near Tarpon Springs also is under a tropical storm warning. A tropical storm watch was issued this morning for Florida’s east coast from Marineland north into Georgia.