Some strengthening is forecast and the U.S. National Hurricane Center says Hermine is expected to be a hurricane when it makes landfall in Florida on Thursday night or early Friday.
The last hurricane to strike Florida was Wilma, a powerful Category 3 storm that hit on October 24, 2005.
In advance of the storm, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency. It swept across the Everglades and struck highly populated south Florida, causing five deaths in the state and an estimated $23 billion in damage.
"So many people have moved to our state and we always have visitors", Scott added, as he urged Floridians to prepare and reiterated, "This storm is life-threatening". That's a huge chunk of new Floridians who've never endured a hurricane.
Tropical Storm Hermine strengthened into a hurricane Thursday and steamed toward Florida's Gulf Coast, where people put up shutters, nailed plywood across store windows and braced for the first hurricane to hit the state in over a decade. So there's still a chance, even if it's small, that the center of the storm could move over the state.
Late this morning, Hermine was packing top sustained winds of 65 mph, with tropical storm force winds extending outward up to 140 miles from the center, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
"Tropical Storm Madeline did not make a direct hit on the Big Island of Hawaii". Robert Glazer spent the past two days getting his ocean-front home prepared.
"We're basically looking at a lot of rain", he said.
The hurricane center also predicts storm surge along the coast to vary between one and three feet above ground level.
The storm, spinning in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday morning, threatens to slam into the Panhandle area or just south of it after midnight, bringing heavy rain and possible unsafe storm surges.
Tornadoes could spin out of the system as it makes landfall, the weather service warned. Hurricane conditions could reach the Panhandle region Thursday night, ahead of landfall.
Rainfall totals of six to eight inches will be common in north Florida as Hermine rolls through. News outlets reported that high school football games in many areas will be played Thursday night because Hermine was expected to bring heavy rains to the state Friday.
A few tornadoes are also possible this afternoon into Friday morning over north Florida and southeast Georgia, and the tornado risk will continue across the eastern Carolinas from Friday morning.
The Florida Highway Patrol has closed the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on the Gulf Coast due to high winds from Tropical Storm Hermine (Her-MEEN).