A tropical weather system has rapidly strengthened into Hurricane Michael and is likely to keep growing stronger ahead of an expected strike on Florida’s Panhandle by midweek, forecasters said.
Michael could strengthen into a major hurricane with winds topping 111mph by Tuesday night before an expected strike on Wednesday on the Panhandle or Big Bend, according to the National Hurricane Centre.
Since the storm will spend two to three days over the Gulf of Mexico, which has very warm water temperatures and favorable atmospheric conditions, “there is a real possibility that Michael will strengthen to a major hurricane before landfall”, said Robbie Berg, a hurricane specialist at the Miami-based storm forecasting hub.
#Michael could produce three life-threatening hazards along portions of the northeastern Gulf Coast: storm surge, heavy rainfall, and hurricane-force winds, with storm surge and hurricane watches in effect. Residents in these areas should follow advice given by local officials. pic.twitter.com/JZENNHSQTK
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) October 8, 2018
Florida governor Rick Scott said Hurricane Michael is a “monstrous storm” that has the potential to be devastating to the Florida Panhandle.
Speaking alongside emergency officials, Mr Scott declared a state of emergency for 35 counties and asked President Donald Trump for assistance ahead of the storm.
He warned that the storm surge could be as high as 8ft-10ft in some parts of the Panhandle and 2ft-4ft in the Tampa Bay area.
A life-threatening storm surge from Michael is expected along much of the coast of the Florida Panhandle with peak inundation values occurring within the Big Bend. To view flooding potential in your area, a dynamic map is provided at this link: https://t.co/VSAP6FgG4s pic.twitter.com/VbyAbAR19Z
— NHC_Surge (@NHC_Surge) October 8, 2018
In a Facebook post, Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office said no shelters would be open because Wakulla County shelters were rated safe only for hurricanes with top sustained winds below 111mph.
With Michael’s winds projected to be stronger than that, Wakulla County residents were urged to evacuate inland.
“This storm has the potential to be a historic storm, please take heed,” the sheriff’s office said in the post.
Michael was lashing western Cuba on Monday with heavy rains and strong winds, according to the hurricane centre. Forecasters warned that the storm could produce up to a foot of rain in western Cuba, potentially triggering flash floods and mudslides in mountainous areas.