Emergency officials in Florida readied Thursday for the potential effects of Tropical Storm Erika, which lashed the small island of Dominica with flooding and landslides, still hundreds of miles away in the Atlantic Ocean.
"We're going to hope for the best, prepare for the worst," Gov. Rick Scott said. "But get ready."
While the National Hurricane Center was predicting late Thursday that Erika will make landfall in Florida as a Category 1 hurricane, much remained uncertain.
"I don't think we're going to know in the U.S. and Florida if there's anything we need to prepare or plan for until, at the earliest, Friday night," said WTSP 10Weather chief meteorologist Jim Van Fleet.
Wind shear still threatened to tear the storm apart, he said. But if the storm endures, it's likely to get much stronger.
"If the wind shear loosens up — and it should in that area around the Bahamas and Cuba — and it hits that water, it'll just explode," Van Fleet said.
Nearly the entire Florida peninsula remained within the storm's five-day forecast cone in a National Hurricane Center update at 11 p.m. Van Fleet said models showed potential impact from Miami to Jacksonville and even further north.
The cyclone deluged Dominica, where at least four people were killed, several were missing and at least 20 homes were destroyed by landslides following 15 inches of rain that began Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.
"The situation is grim. It is dangerous," Ian Pinard, Dominica's communications minister, told the AP.
At 11 p.m., forecasters said, Erika was spinning westward at 17 miles per hour with 45 mile per hour winds, slightly weaker than on previous days.
It was about 135 miles southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, on path to move near or over the Dominican Republic on Friday. Forecasters expected a turn to the west-northwest on Friday through Saturday.
Puerto Rico has suffered from drought this summer, and Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla told the AP that Erika's rains were welcome. "We're happy given the dry conditions, but it does highlight the need to be on alert," he said, expressing concern about the potential for flash floods.
In Tallahassee, Scott said that the National Guard was combing over its equipment, prepared to mobilize over the weekend. According to the Hurricane Center, Erika might reach the Sunshine State between Sunday and Tuesday. The storm could become the first hurricane to make landfall in Florida since 2005.
"We haven't had a hurricane in years," the governor said, addressing reporters after a statewide emergency management conference call. "The way I think about it is: Stop and think about your family for a second. … How can I make sure they're prepared? Do I have enough water? Do I have enough food? Are they going to need a shelter?"
Especially with the likelihood that the storm could escalate during the weekend, Scott said it's critical that Floridians pay attention to elected officials and follow the news to stay up-to-date.
"Hopefully this will continue just being a drill," he said.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.