ST. PETERSBURG, FLA - Tropical Storm Emily churned ashore on Florida's Gulf Coast near the mouth of Tampa Bay, forcing Gov. Rick Scott on Monday to declare a state of emergency for 31 of the state's 67 counties as the storm takes aim at crossing the peninsula in the coming hours.
Rain began falling around midnight in St. Petersburg on Florida's west coast, making for a soggy Monday morning rush hour in the region. Forecasters warned of possible risks of isolated tornadoes and even offshore waterspouts from the system as the storm was expected to bring drenching rains over parts of the state.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott was headed to the state's Emergency Operations Center for a briefing on Tropical Storm Emily. Scott said in a news release that residents of the affected areas should remain vigilant as the storm crosses central Florida, bringing wind and rain to central and southern Florida.
A few communities, such as Pinellas Park and Tarpon Springs, offered residents sandbags to stave off flooding. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm's maximum sustained winds increased Monday morning to near 45 mph (72 kph) but Emily is expected to weaken do a tropical depression as it moves inland. A tropical storm warning is in effect for a section of the Florida coast from the Anclote River to Bonita Beach.
At 11 a.m. EDT Monday, Emily was centered about 35 miles (55 kilometers) southwest of Tampa and moving east at 9 mph (15 kph).
Forecasters say Emily was expected to dump between 2 to 4 inches of rain through Monday night between the Tampa bay area and Naples, with isolated amounts up to 8 inches possible in spots. Lesser amounts were predicted elsewhere in the region.
After crossing the Florida peninsula, the storm is expected to move offshore of east-central Florida along the Atlantic coast sometime Tuesday morning.