Some meteorologists said Monday that Tropical Storm Alberto was a marginal storm that might solve local drought concerns in Florida. Today, it is a potential hurricane and Florida residents are preparing for the worst.
Forecasts predict that Florida's gulf coast between Tampa and the Panhandle could see a storm surge of 7 to 9 feet from Albert, and more than 20,000 people in five counties, particularly in low-lying areas, have been ordered to evacuate. Some have predicted a 4 to 10 foot tidal surge in projected areas. The fear of flash flooding prompted Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to declare a state of emergency and sign a declaration of emergency allowing him to call up the National Guard and put laws against price gouging in place.
"I hope people aren't being defiant," Gov. Bush said. "That they recognize that this is a dangerous time. They should get to high ground."
Nearing Hurricane Strength
At 5 a.m. ET today, Alberto was centered about 65 miles west of Cedar Key, and was moving northeast at about 9 mph toward an expected landfall in the area around midday, the Hurricane Center said. Its top sustained winds were at 65 mph; the minimum for a hurricane is 74 mph.
Residents in Lecanto, Fla. were filling sandbags and securing boats. One-hundred people are hunkered down in the high school-middle school gym to wait out the storm. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has moved in more than 96 trucks of food and ice.
"We're taking the floor out so the water can come in through the frames instead of lifting the dock up," one man told ABC News.
As Alberto continues to spin closer to shore, wind speeds jumped from 50 to 70 mph in just three hours on Monday. It is getting closer and closer to hurricane strength and is now unleashing buckets or rain.
"The rainfall has been pretty much as we've expected from Alberto, basically 4 to 8 inches in general in northern Florida and central Georgia but a few spots will top out near a foot of rainfall," said Ken Reeves senior expert meteorologist at Accuweather.com.
The storm's center was located west-southwest of Cedar Key, Fla. on Monday night. In Cedar Key, winds are blowing at about 55 mph. The storm was moving northeast at about 10 miles per hour and its center was expected to reach the Florida gulf coast late this morning.
A hurricane warning remains in effect for the Gulf Coast of Florida from Longboat Key to the Ochlocknee River. A tropical storm warning is also in effect for the Atlantic coast from Flagler beach, Fla. all the way to the border of Georgia and South Carolina.
Meteorologists say that isolated tornadoes are possible across parts of central and northern Florida and southern Georgia today.
ABC News's Chris Cuomo and Mike Von Fremd contributed to this report.