CNN reports Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in 26 counties in preparation for Tropical Storm Michael as it heads away from Cuba and toward the northeastern Gulf Coast, expected to make landfall anywhere between Tuesday night and early Thursday, depending on which way the storm travels and how quickly.
Michael could strengthen into a major hurricane with winds topping 111 miles per hour (178 kph) by Tuesday night before an expected strike on Florida's Panhandle or Big Bend, according to the National Hurricane Center.
It is expected that Michael, now centered about 90 miles east of Cozumel, Mexico, will dump four to eight inches of rain, with totals reaching more than 12 inches in isolated areas, potentially causing "life-threatening" flash floods and mudslides, according to the National Hurricane Center. Storm surge and hurricane watches are in effect for some areas along the Gulf Coast.
Areas to the east of where the storm center tracks will experience the greatest storm surge, and flooding will be worst around the high tides.
According to the NHC, Michael is forecast to be near or at major hurricane strength when it reaches the northeastern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday night and Wednesday.
Since the storm will spend two to three days over the Gulf, 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", Robbie Berg, a hurricane specialist at the Miami-based storm forecasting hub, wrote in an advisory.
A Tropical Storm Watch has been issued from the Suwanee River to Anna Maria Island, including Tampa Bay.
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A storm is designated a Category 1 hurricane if it reaches speeds of 74 miles per hour or more, and a Category 2 hurricane at 96 miles per hour or more on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Leslie is hanging around in the middle of the Atlantic. For a depiction of areas at risk, please see the National Weather Service Storm Surge Watch/Warning Graphic, available at hurricanes.gov.A Hurricane Watch means that hurricane conditions are possible within the watch area.
The Florida Panhandle and Big Bend into southern Georgia are planning on seeing at least 4 to 8 inches of rain, with up to a foot of in some parts.
During the second half of this week, the heavy rain is forecast to stream northward, unloading 4 to 8 inches through the Southeast, including over the Carolinas, just recovering from Hurricane Florence.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is the Democratic nominee for governor, had planned to campaign in South Florida on Monday and Tuesday, but he said he would return to Tallahassee to help with storm preparations.
Michael is the 13th named storm of the 2018 hurricane season. Swells are expected to begin affecting the coast of the eastern and northern Gulf of Mexico during the next day or so.