Amber Alert issued for 4 children, one with critical medical needs, taken by mother

Andrea Chugs Toward Florida’s Big Bend

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By Matt Smith, CNN

(CNN) — High winds and soaking rain started to fall on Florida as Tropical Storm Andrea rushed toward the swampy Big Bend on Thursday, but Floridians sounded unimpressed.

The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, Andrea was already whipping up gusts as high as 48 mph in St. Petersburg, the National Hurricane Center reported.

Tornado watches and occasional warnings covered much of the state’s peninsula, and forecasters warned of coastal flooding as the storm neared land.

But Andrea won’t spend enough time over the Gulf of Mexico to develop into a hurricane before it makes a projected landfall in the crook of the state’s west coast, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center reported.

Though it’s set to soak Tallahassee, Sue Carpenter doesn’t expect Andrea to deter many of her dedicated students at Lifelong Fitness Pilates. By 8 a.m., none of her private class clients had called to cancel.

“They’re dedicated,” Carpenter said.

Across town at Mike’s Liquor and Beer Barn, the delivery trucks arrived earlier than usual Wednesday morning.

“We’ll see an upswing” in business during the morning, owner Mike Raynor said. “But I think it’s not gonna be anything special, nothing real bad. It’s been so long since Tallahassee had a storm. Today, I think people are just now realizing it’s coming.”

At 2 p.m. ET, Andrea was about 35 miles west-southwest of Cedar Key, Florida, and had picked up speed as it chugged toward shore. Its top winds remained 60 mph, and it was moving to the northeast at 17 mph — a track that would bring it onto land in the next few hours, the Hurricane Center reported.

“Little change in strength is expected before the center reaches the coast,” forecasters said. “Some weakening is forecast tonight and early Friday while the center of Andrea moves over land.”

The storm triggered tornado warnings around Tampa on Thursday morning, while tornado watches were posted for much of south Florida as bands of rain fell there.

“We are already getting the outer bands here in Tampa Bay,” CNN commenter Angel MacFarland Armstrong wrote. “Lots of rain, flooding, and there have been several confirmed tornadoes overnight and this morning.”

Radar indications pointed to tornadoes east and south of Tampa, and meteorologists detected one twister near the community of Myakka City, about 25 miles inland from Sarasota.

But the main threat from Andrea will be torrential rain, which will cause flooding across the northern half of Florida, especially along the west coast. Rainfall totals could be as high as 6 inches.

Tropical storm-force winds over 39 mph stretched more than 140 miles from the eye of the storm. Tropical storm warnings stretched from Boca Grande, near Fort Myers, to Indian Pass, near Apalachicola.

Andrea is expected to travel across land and up the East Coast as well, so tropical storm warnings were also posted from Flagler Beach, Florida, about 70 miles south of Jacksonville, to the southern reaches of Chesapeake Bay.

Andrea could bring storm surges of 2 to 5 feet along the a stretch of the Gulf Coast from Apalachicola to Tampa Bay, a sparsely populated region dominated by marshland. Other parts of the coast could see 1- to 2-foot storm surges. Forecasters warned that could cause “minor to moderate” flooding during high tides and minor flooding in urban areas.

The area in the bull’s-eye is roughly where Tropical Storm Debby hit nearly a year ago, in June 2012. Debby dumped up to 2 feet of rain onto the low-lying region, causing extensive flooding in some coastal towns.

Andrea is expected to cross southeastern Georgia, bringing as much as 8 inches of rain in some areas, and continue into the Carolinas. The eastern parts of North and South Carolina could see up to 4 inches of rain, the National Hurricane Center said.

“The combination of a storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters,” according to the center.

CNN meteorologists Sean Morris and Ivan Cabrera, and CNN’s Holly Yan and Ashley Fantz contributed to this report.