PINELLAS COUNTY - Just after 2 p.m. today, The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for the county effective this afternoon, thanks to Tropical Storm Bonnie. Charley has been upgraded to a Category 2 hurricane.
According to Gary Vickers, the county's Emergency Management director, winds as high as 110 mph could be felt in the area by Friday evening. Storm surge is predicted to be as high as 14-foot above sea level in Tampa Bay. Residents living on the Barrier Islands should prepare for storm surge between 8- to 10-foot above sea level. Storm surge will be dependent on the exact track of the storm. Residents east of the center will be impacted the most.
It is expected that by 2 p.m. Friday, tropical storm force winds of at least 40 mph will be impacting the area prompting the closure of area bridges and halting evacuation efforts. Residents are urged to begin making preparations to evacuate no later than 6 tonight. Emergency officials have an estimated 24 hours to move 380,000 residents to safety.
The Pinellas County Board of Commissioners issued a mandatory evacuation orders for residents living in A, B, and C evacuation level areas. Click here to see an evacuation map.
At 2 p.m., Bonnie, described by the National Hurricane Center as having a "poorly defined center" was located about 30 miles southeast of Tallahassee. The storm is moving toward the east-northeast at about 28 mph. Maximum sustained winds had decreased to about 40 mph and the storm is expected to move to the northeast later today. Tropical force winds extended outward up to 70 miles mostly over water southeast of the center.
Isolated tornados, high winds and heavy rains are expected and parts of the county could feel some impact from this storm as it moves farther inland.
Hurricane Charley, currently predicted to make landfall in the Tampa Bay area, Friday evening, has been upgraded to a Category 2 storm.
The latest bulletin from the National Weather Center's Hurricane issued at 2 p.m. information from reconnaissance aircraft and radars from Cuba indicate the center of hurricane Charley was located about 190 miles south-southeast of Havana Cuba.
Charley is moving toward the northwest near 17 mph. The storm is expected to turn toward the north-northwest later today or tonight and is expected to pass over or just east of the Isle of Youth tonight.
The latest winds reported by reconnaissance aircraft are near 105 mph with higher gusts, making Charley a Category 2 hurricane. Some strengthening is forecast during the next 24 hours and Charley could become a Category 3 before it makes landfall along the south coast of Cuba.
TBNWeekly.com will continue to update residents as more information comes available. Look for complete coverage of Charley's impact in the print editions next week.