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North Florida under state of emergency in case Nate strikes as hurricane

Gov. Rick Scott declared the state of emergency Thursday afternoon.

Twenty-nine Florida counties are now under a state of emergency in case Tropical Storm Nate veers back east and strikes the Panhandle this weekend.

Gov. Rick Scott signed the executive order Thursday afternoon to “ensure local governments have ample time, resources and flexibility to get prepared,” his office said.

The 2 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center forecasts Tropical Storm Nate to potentially hit near New Orleans as a hurricane by Sunday morning, with only westernmost areas of the Florida Panhandle in the cone of uncertainty. There’s still time for the storm’s track to shift as it gets closer to the Gulf Coast.

“While current forecast models have the storm’s center west of Florida, we must be vigilant and get prepared,” Scott said in a statement.

Related: RELATED: “Tropical Storm Nate makes landfall in Nicaragua, bound for the U.S. coast”

Scott went into storm preparation mode himself on Thursday.

He issued a public schedule that included in-person visits to the emergency operations centers in Escambia and Bay counties. He also listed calls throughout the day with state meteorologist Amy Godsey, officials at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, city and county leaders, and representatives of oil companies, utilities, hospitals, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

Scott’s emergency declaration spans the Panhandle and areas of North Florida from Pensacola to as far east as Gainesville — a stretch that also includes Panama City and the state capital of Tallahassee.

“By declaring an emergency in these counties, we can also ensure that there is no hindrance in the transportation of supplies and assets,” Scott said. “We will keep monitoring and issuing updates on Tropical Storm Nate as it approaches the Gulf Coast.”