Tropical Storm Michael: Storm Could Strengthen Into Category 2 Hurricane

Still far off, Tropical Storm Michael a growing menace to Florida Panhandle

Track Hurricane Michael: Spaghetti models, forecast cone and satellite

He also stated in his message that there was reason to believe that Tropical Storm Michael could become a Category 3 hurricane, but it is unknown if weather officials have confirmed that possibility.

This satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a view of Tropical Storm Michael, lower right, churning as it heads toward the Florida Panhandle, Sunday, Oct. 7.

Michael's maximum sustained winds had reached 70 miles per hour, it said.

A tropical storm watch has been issued from the Suwannee River in the Big Bend, south to Anna Maria Island, just south of Tampa Bay.

Michael has strengthened into a hurricane and is forecast to strike the northeast Florida coastline as a Category 3 with risky storm surge flooding, destructive winds and flooding rainfall.

Michael is expected to become a hurricane later this morning and is forecast to continue strengthening up until landfall. Although the outer bands of the storm could bring some higher rain chances to the area, those living or visiting the Orlando area will not be feeling very much in terms of gusty winds or torrential downpours.

On the forecast track, the center of Michael will pass near the western tip of Cuba within the next couple of hours and move into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico by tonight.

Tropical storm force winds are possible as early as Wednesday.

By 11 a.m. Monday, Michael's top sustained winds were around 75 miles per hour. Tropical storm watches extend farther south through the Tampa Bay area to Anna Maria Island and, to the west, along the Alabama coast.

Storm surges of up to 12 feet, which could lead to life-threatening flooding, have been predicted by the NHC on the Florida coast.

"All indications are that it's going to be severe", said City Commissioner Gil Ziffer, adding that if the storm hits Florida's capital, there would be significant tree damage and power outages.

This would make the storm a major hurricane with maximum sustained winds of between 111 and 129 miles per hour. Rainfall is a lesser threat due to the storm's progressive movement to the north. Forecasters warned that the storm could produce up to 30 centimetres of rain in western Cuba, potentially triggering flash floods and mudslides in mountainous areas.

Scott issued an order for a state of emergency for 26 counties in the Florida Panhandle and the Big Bend area. The Weather Service said the storm also could contribute to minor coastal flooding early in the week, in part because of the astronomical high tides that were already forecast to occur before the storm's formation.

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