Hurricane Floyd grew into a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm today with 145 mph winds that could slap the Florida coast by Wednesday morning.
The Bahamas braced for Floyd, with the entire island chain under hurricane warnings or watches tonight. Officials in Nassau said they anticipated a direct hit.
From there, the coast between Cape Canaveral and Daytona Beach could be ground zero for landfall on Wednesday, according to computer projections from the National Hurricane Center in Miami. But forecasters caution that they cannot predict exactly where the more than 450-mile-wide storm will strike.
"It's just too close to call," said Richard Pasch, a specialist with the center.
Forecasters still hope a low-pressure system will sweep down from the Great Lakes and push Floyd out to sea. But meteorologists at the hurricane center said Floridians should be ready.
"We thought this was going to be a solid hurricane--and now it's gone way beyond that," said Max Mayfield, the hurricane center's deputy director.
Tonight, Floyd was 330 miles east of San Salvador in the central Bahamas and moving westward at a brisk 14 mph. Its estimated central barometric pressure was 27.49 inches, meaning that a storm surge of 10 to 15 feet above normal was possible in the warning areas.
Andrew was the last Category 4 storm to hit Florida, leaving 26 dead and $25 billion in damage south of Miami in 1992.
Although the most likely computer projection has Floyd plowing into Cape Canaveral, most hurricanes usually don't take direct paths. They wander around, which had forecasters and state emergency officials urging all Florida residents to watch the storm closely. Almost every coastal city between Miami and Jacksonville had a 20 percent chance of being struck, according to the projections.
Floyd's size and direction concerned state officials enough to boost emergency readiness and prepare for possible evacuations. More than 11,000 National Guardsmen were placed on alert.
State officials said residents may become complacent about hurricanes since several of them threaten to come ashore each year and then bypass Florida all together. Hurricane Dennis did just that last month before repeatedly battering North Carolina.
But "Floyd is not Dennis," Bishop said, adding that Floyd has the potential to do major damage even inland.
Floyd's hurricane-force winds can be felt more than 100 miles from the eye of the storm, and tropical-force winds could be felt nearly 300 miles away. If Floyd hits the Florida coast, hurricane- and tropical storm-force winds could stretch across the entire peninsula.
Skimming along at 20 mph 1,500 miles east of the Lesser Antilles was Tropical Storm Gert, which forecasters said was on the verge of strengthening into a hurricane.