With Hurricane Frances less than three days away from a possible Florida landfall, forecasters have issued a hurricane watch for more than 300 miles of the state`s east coast. The watch is likely to be upgraded to a warning sometime Thursday. A hurricane watch means that hurricane conditions are possible within the watch area, typically within 36 hours. The watch area extends from Craig Key northward to Flagler Beach, including Lake Okeechobee. A tropical storm watch has been issued for the southern tip of the state and the Florida Keys. At 8 a. m. today, Hurricane Frances was pounding the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas with maximum sustained winds near 145 mph, the National Hurricane Center reported. Five to ten inches of rain was possible, and forecasters warned of storm surge flooding 6-14 feet above normal. Emergency officials in Florida are taking action, while residents attempt to prepare the best they can by buying supplies. Floridians are beginning to pour out of their state just to be safe...many of them are headed to hotel rooms right here in our area. Yesterday, News 18 spoke with the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce, and they told us that local hotels are already booked solid for the coming weekend, as Floridians flee the possible wrath of Hurricane Frances. According to the NHC, Frances will be significantly larger than Charley, which hit southwestern and Central Florida. Wherever Frances makes landfall, it will likely have an impact over a much, much larger area. Category 4 hurricanes are characterized by winds of 131 to 155 mph, storm surges of 13-18 feet, and cause extreme damage, according to the Saffir-Simpson hurrican scale. Forecasters are looking at two possiblities for Frances` track after leaving the Bahamas. It could turn north to go up Florida`s eastern coast, then into Georgia and South Carolina, or it could travel across south Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico before turning north.
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