Florida’s first hurricane in nearly 11 years made landfall early Friday morning with a significant storm surge and rainfall totals that have nearly touched 20 inches since Tuesday. Hermine weakened to a tropical storm and is currently over land in the Southeast, but it’s expected to cross into the Atlantic over the next 24 hours and ride up the East Coast with storm surge and excessive rainfall.
Hermine made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane with max winds of 80 mph near St. Marks, Fla., around 1:30 a.m. Friday morning. It was Florida’s first hurricane landfall since Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Hermine was also the first hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico since Ingrid in 2013.
As anticipated, the storm surge reached dangerous levels in the Big Bend region of Florida. Due to the relatively sparse population in that part of the coastline, there are not a lot of tide gauges, but among the stations that do exist, Cedar Key received the greatest storm surge by far at seven feet.
Unfortunately, Hermine’s peak storm surge coincided with high tide and created a water level that was 4.7 feet above the “highest astronomical tide” and six feet above the average high tide level. It was the fifth highest water level ever observed in Cedar Key — the highest in 23 years. The only hurricane to surpass that water level in the past century was Alma in 1966.
Several locations across the state experienced wind gusts in the 60-70 mph range, from Tallahassee to Tampa, and 70-80 mph gusts were observed in the eye wall in the Florida Panhandle. A personal weather station in Bald Point recorded 78 mph gusts just before the eye of the hurricane passed over.
Florida rainfall totals
Baskin — 19.89 inches
Largo — 14.6 inches
Seminole — 10.25 inches
St. Petersburg — 9.27 inches
Heavy rain left many places flooded. The area around Tampa and St. Petersburg was the hardest hit by heavy rain. Nearly 20 inches fell in Baskin, Fla., just south of Clearwater, since Tuesday. In the panhandle, closer to the center of the storm, estimates from radar suggest widespread rainfall totals of 3 to 6 inches.
What’s next for Hermine
On Friday morning, Hermine was a tropical storm with max winds of 50 mph and slightly higher gusts. The center of the storm was over Georgia, though it will reach the Atlantic on Sunday morning. The focus now turns to the East Coast for the holiday weekend.
In the coming day, Hermine will travel north, bringing multiple days of rain and storm surge to the coast. Tropical storm warnings and watches are in effect from northeast Florida to New Jersey. Some forecast models are suggesting the storm could actually slow down just off the Mid-Atlantic, which would lengthen the amount of time tropical storm conditions are felt from Virginia to as far north as Massachusetts.
In addition to widespread rainfall totals up to 10 inches, a storm surge is likely along the East Coast, and the National Hurricane Center has issued a storm surge watch from Virginia to Connecticut. Ocean water will be pushed on land by Hermine’s winds, much like the blizzard in January. It will be particularly deep during high tide. The coastlines of Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey are at particularly high risk over the next 36 hours.
The storm surge watch is an experimental product being issued by the Weather Service for the first time during Tropical Storm Hermine.
Hermine can be traced back to the African coast on Aug. 16, followed by a long trek as a disorganized disturbance across the Atlantic. It was upgraded to a tropical depression on Sunday, then a tropical storm on Wednesday in the central Gulf of Mexico. That was the point where in finally kicked into gear. The peak winds increased from 50 mph on Wednesday evening to 80 mph on Thursday evening, and the central pressure fell by 18 millibars in that same time. It became the season’s fourth hurricane on Thursday afternoon.