Looking at the GFS initlializations of the 500mb pattern, I'm not sure it's got a full grasp on the strength of the ridge still. It has the overall pattern right, but the ridge is more than likely stronger in the west Atlantic than advertised (and stronger than it is in the east Atlantic). But, that's just my intuition.
Evacuations -- follow the advice of your local emergency managers. The maps on FloridaDisaster.org (click on Public, then look for the mapping tools) are very useful in helping you make a decision as well, providing hurricane evacuation zones and storm surge zones (but note you have to zoom in pretty far to get them to display).
A friend of mine has relatives in Melbourne. I think that will be on the northern edge of the storm, but the error potential is too great. My friend advised them to go to Naples, where other family lives, which isn't necessarily a bad idea. They should be far enough south there to miss the impacts of Frances -- and that far SW region of the state is probably the least likely part of any of the state to see major impacts from the storm, although they are by no means out of the woods yet.
My family lives in Orlando, directly in the crosshairs of the current NHC path. They are stocking up and preparing much better than they did for Charley, but supplies are running low. They live in a spot that received a direct hit from Charley, but saw little damage due to good construction and a lack of trees and other objects to fall over. I only hope it stays south of them, as many around them were not as lucky. Even if the storm passes over them per the NHC path, though, they are best suited to ride it out or go to a shelter if the situation warrants.
If you feel it best to leave the state, do so -- but be careful where you head. Depending on the track of the storm, it could impact anywhere from Montgomery, AL to Cape Hatteras, NC in some way, shape, or form. The catch-22 is that if you are going to leave, it is better to do it sooner rather than later as the roads will soon become clogged with traffic. Make contingency plans in case you leave and the storm comes your way anyway.
Thought we might know more about the storm today -- and while we know a bit more, we still know very little. Hopefully Thursday will bring much more new information.
As one last aside...the maximum potential intensity indicators over the SW Atlantic suggest 930-940mb pressure is about all that can occur. But, by no means is it a hard and fast guideline, and much work is being done to try to refine and improve this algorithm. It is something to keep in mind, however. Recon is enroute and I expect they'll find a slightly lower pressure, but nothing spectacularly lower. Frances does have a better appearance on the last satellite images before the nightly eclipse, and is in a favorable cycle for strengthening after the last eyewall replacement cycle, but by no means should we be expecting a cat 5 this morning out of the storm, if at all. Just my two cents.
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