TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – State officials began preparing Tuesday for Tropical Storm Bonnie (search) to push into Florida by Thursday, possibly followed by Tropical Storm Charley (search) a day or two later.
Bonnie was still more than 300 miles from landfall Tuesday, but authorities said the storm could intensify overnight and reach hurricane status before striking Florida's Panhandle (search).
"If you're in the Panhandle ... you need to prepare, stay aware, be alert and, most important for people on the coastal communities, be ready to act if it's necessary for evacuation," said Craig Fugate, the state's emergency operations director.
Bonnie had maximum sustained winds near 60 mph, but it was a small system with tropical storm force winds extending only 30 miles from the center.
Charley, meanwhile, was moving quickly across the Caribbean toward Jamaica but was expected to begin a curving shift to the north Wednesday or Thursday, forecasters said. A hurricane center forecast chart showed Charley possibly moving up the western side of Florida on Friday.
At 8 p.m. EDT, Charley was centered about 365 miles east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, moving west-northwest near 26 mph. A tropical storm watch was declared in Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and the southwest peninsula of Haiti, and the storm's center could approach Jamaica by Wednesday morning, forecasters said.
Charley had maximum sustained winds near 65 mph and was expected to strengthen over the next day. Tropical storm force winds extended 105 miles from the center.
Bonnie and Charley are the second and third named storms of the Atlantic hurricane season. Hurricane Alex grazed North Carolina's Outer Banks last week, causing heavy flooding and blacking out thousands of people.