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Hurricane Hermine expected to hit Florida around midnight Thursday

This satellite image shows Hurricane Hermine approaching Florida

This satellite image shows Hurricane Hermine approaching Florida from the Gulf of Mexico. Photo Credit: NOAA

Hurricane Hermine gained new strength Thursday evening and roared ever closer to Florida’s Gulf Coast, where rough surf began battering docks and boathouses and people braced for the first direct hit on the state from a hurricane in over a decade. How the storm would affect Long Island’s holiday weekend remained uncertain.

The National Hurricane Center officially declared the storm a Category 1 hurricane at 3 p.m. Thursday as heavy squalls drenched the region.

Hermine was expected to blow ashore about midnight Thursday along the state’s Big Bend — the mostly rural and lightly populated corner where the Florida Peninsula meets the Panhandle, bringing potentially deadly storm surges of as much as 8 feet along with heavy rain, the National Hurricane Center said.

When Hermine makes landfall, it would be the first hurricane to strike Florida since Wilma in 2005.

“This is life-threatening,” Gov. Rick Scott told reporters in Tallahassee, the capital. “The storm surge, by itself, is life-threatening.”

Questions remained on the storm’s later track and intensity, especially after moves across Georgia and the Carolinas, and then emerges as a post-tropical storm off the mid-Atlantic coast on Saturday, forecasters say.

The weather service late Thursday issued a hazardous weather outlook for Long Island from Friday through Wednesday, telling of the potential from the weekend through Tuesday for moderate to major coastal flooding, along with possible strong winds and heavy rain, dependent on the track and strength of the system. There’s also high risk for rip current along with beach erosion, the service said.

The hurricane center was confident enough Thursday to issue a tropical storm watch along the East Coast for waters as far north as Sandy Hook, New Jersey.

That watch indicated that there’s potential for the storm to “slow its forward progress Sunday and Monday while east of the New Jersey coast,” which would bring “potential for tropical storm force winds” as well as “building seas to dangerous heights over the holiday weekend.”

Such a near-stalling just to the south would have coastal flooding implications for Long Island, said Nelson Vaz, National Weather Service meteorologist based in Upton, with confidence increasing — though far from a sure thing — for moderate to possibly major widespread flooding at times of high tide.

Given the possibility for downstate New York to “experience high rip currents, heavy rain and strong winds” over the weekend, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has put state agencies, including the MTA, Port Authority, Department of Transportation and State Police, on alert, directing them to activate preparedness efforts.

He urged “all New Yorkers, especially those in the downstate region, to be prepared, check local weather reports,” as well as make use of NY-Alert, the state’s voice and text message alert system.

— With AP

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