ORLANDO, Fla. - Tropical Depression Nine formed in the Caribbean on Friday with a path that could bring it to Florida next week as a major Category 3 hurricane prompting Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency in 24 counties.
"This storm has the potential to strengthen into a major hurricane and we encourage all Floridians to make their preparations," he said. "We are coordinating with all state and local government partners to track potential impacts of this storm."
DeSantis also requested a federal emergency declaration ahead of landfall that would free up funding sources for emergency protective measures. The counties in the order are Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lee, Manatee, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Okeechobee, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota and St. Lucie.
Not in the order are Orange, Lake, Seminole or Volusia.
The system could become Hurricane Ian, as the name Hermine was taken by a new tropical storm that formed Friday evening off the coast of Africa.
In its 5 p.m. update, the National Hurricane Center said TD9 was located about 430 miles east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, and 930 miles southeast of Havana, Cuba, with 35 mph sustained winds moving west-northwest at 15 mph.
A hurricane watch was issued for the Cayman Islands and tropical storm watch for Jamaica. An Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft is on its way to investigate the depression, but the next full advisory won't be until 11 p.m., the NHC said.
The 5 p.m, cone of uncertainty still has the system approaching Florida late Tuesday and making landfall Wednesday, but the consensus center path has moved slightly up the southwest coast closer to Tampa than the 11 a.m. advisory.
"Once again, the global models have shifted westward this cycle during this period, and there remains increased track uncertainty late in the forecast period once the cyclone emerges into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico," said NHC hurricane specialist Brad Reinhart. "The latest NHC track forecast has been adjusted westward from 48-120 hours, and it lies near or slightly east of the latest track consensus aids."
The cone of uncertainty now encompasses all of peninsular Florida with a path that could bring it up through the middle of the state.
"I'm a Floridian. so I'm going to speak to you candidly. Don't panic," said NHC acting director Jamie Rhome. "It is important that you take this threat seriously and begin to execute your hurricane plans in a calm and orderly fashion while there's still time to get ready."
There will be a slow intensification over the weekend projected to become a tropical storm by tonight and grow into hurricane strength by Monday morning with its center south of Cuba near the Cayman Islands and Jamaica.
"We are watching the path, still not quite clear-cut, but it is aiming in the general direction of Florida sometime next week," said Spectrum News 13 meteorologist Bryan Karrick. "So I'd spend the weekend getting your hurricane preps ready to go, maybe top off the gas tank, and get your generator ready, some bottled water and canned goods as well as we watch the system next week."
Already in Central Florida, which has seen a lot of rainfall of late, Orange and Seminole county officials have started sandbag operations and are preparing shelters in the event they're needed. Shelter locations are not announced until the shelters are fully set up and staffed.
Orange County spokesperson Darell Moody said county officials are taking preventive measures ahead of the potential storm.
"Our crews are proactively checking canals, ponds, pumps stations, drainwells, control structures, hot spots for any potential blockages today in preparation for the possible storm predicted," Moody said.
Osceola county officials said the county's emergency management team is completing internal checklists and revising drainage structures.
"We urge residents to make preparations and watch NWS, the news and county information channels for the most accurate information," according to Osceola spokesperson Krystal Diaz.
The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority has announced pre-storm procedures at Orlando International Airport and the Executive Airport, including holding briefings with airlines and activating the agency's hurricane emergency response plan.
The relocation of JetBlue and other airlines to the new Terminal C will be rescheduled, according to the agency. A dedication event planned for the new terminal will also be postponed until a later date.
Officials at the University of Florida said they would assess the situation on Sunday after considering the latest projections, noting decisions about classes, campus operations and UCF Housing would be communicated at that time.
Over at Kennedy Space Center, which was preparing the Artemis I launch as early as Tuesday, officials are still holding out hope they can go for launch ahead of the storm or at least keep it at the launch pad without having to roll the rocket back to the Vehicle Assembly Building for protection. Officials said the Space Launch System rocket can withstand sustained winds of 85 mph on the launch pad.
"While it is a threat to be watched, certainly and watched closely, it's one also that we can manage as well," said Space Launch Delta 45 weather officer Mark Burger.
The five-day path has it hooking north by Tuesday over Cuba and then parked off Florida's southwest coast as a Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds and gusts of 140 mph by Wednesday morning.
"The system already possessed a well-defined circulation for the last 12 to 18 hours, but it was only overnight that the ongoing convective activity was able to persist long enough near the center to be considered a tropical cyclone," said NHC hurricane specialist Phillipe Papin.
There are no coastal watches or warnings at this time.
Tropical Depression Nine will likely drop heavy rainfall, flash flooding, and possible mudslides in Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, with heavy rains in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands coming in the next few days.
"There is still a healthy amount of uncertainty in the track forecast at the day 4-5 timeframe," Papin said.
Elsewhere in the tropics, Hurricane Fiona has passed Bermuda and is now headed toward Canada, Tropical Storm Gaston has started to turn and is headed toward the Azores islands in the Atlantic and Tropical Depression Ten formed off the coast of Africa.
Hurricane Fiona dropped back in intensity to a Category 3 hurricane with 125 mph sustained winds as it speeds north toward the coast of Nova Scotia.
As of 5 p.m., its center was located about 370 miles south-southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia, moving north-northeast at 40 mph and projected to make landfall tonight. A large and powerful post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds, Fiona is then expected to move across Nova Scotia and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Saturday, and then across Labrador and over the Labrador Sea on Sunday.
The system's wind field is expanding as it migrates moves out of the tropics with hurricane-force winds extending out 115 miles and tropical-storm-force winds extending out 345 miles.
The Canadian Hurricane Centre has issued hurricane warnings for parts of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Isle-de-la-Madeleine and parts of Newfoundland with tropical storm warnings for parts of New Brunswick, Quebec, Anticosti Island and other areas of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
While not a threat to Florida, the swells from Fiona are still causing surf and boating issues, with strong rip current conditions on the U.S. East Coast, including Florida as well as the Bahamas.
The NHC is also tracking one other system with the potential to form into the next tropical storm or depression.
TD10 formed from an area of low pressure with shower and thunderstorm activity located between the west coast of Africa and the Cabo Verde Islands hours after TD9, and beat TD9 to the name Hermine when it became Tropical Storm Hermine before 5 p.m.
It's located about 290 northeast of the Cabo Verde Islands with sustained winds of 40 mph moving north-northwest at 10 mph with tropical-storm-force winds extending out 45 miles.
The system could gain strength through Saturday, but is forecast to become a remnant low by Monday.
The NHC says it could develop into a short-lived tropical storm within the next day before weakening. Whichever tropical depression reaches sustained winds of 39 mph first will take the name Tropical Storm Hermine with the following taking the name Tropical Storm Ian.
Also in the central tropical Atlantic is a broad area of low pressure several hundred miles west-southwest of the Cabo Verde Islands that continues to produce some disorganized thunderstorm activity. The NHC said some development is possible as it drifts northwestward or northward in the central Atlantic.
The NHC gives it a 20% chance to form in the next two days and 30% in the next five.
As of 5 p.m., Tropical Storm Gaston dialed back its winds to 60 mph as its center was located about 70 miles north of Faial Island in the Central Azores moving south at 9 mph.
"A turn to the southwest is forecast by early Saturday, and a westward motion is anticipated on Saturday evening or Sunday. On the forecast track, the center of Gaston will move near or over portions of the Azores through early Saturday," NHC forecasters said.
The system's tropical-storm-force winds extend out 175 miles, but it's expected to become post-tropical by Saturday as it moves back west in the Atlantic.
Since Sept. 1, the tropics have begun to play catch-up, churning out five named storms in three weeks after nearly two months of quiet.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in early August updated its season prediction that 2022 would still be above-average with 14 to 21 named storms, although not a single named storm formed in the month of August.
The 2020 hurricane season set a record with 30 named systems, while 2021′s season was the third most active with 21 named systems. An average year calls for 14 named storms.
Through Hermine, 2022 has produced eight named systems.