Update from Reuters:
- MICHAEL BECOMES A HURRICANE AND CONTINUED STRENGTHENING EXPECTED, HEAVY RAINFALL AND STRONG WINDS SPREADING ACROSS WESTERN CUBA, RISK OF LIFE-THREATENING STORM SURGE, HEAVY RAINFALL, AND DANGEROUS WINDS INCREASING FOR THE NORTHEASTERN GULF COAST: NHC
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A new tropical storm has developed off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and could become a dangerous Category 2 hurricane with an expected Wednesday landfall on the Gulf Coast in the Florida Panhandle region.
Hurricane watches have been issued for northwest and north central Florida ahead of Tropical Storm Michael. Forecasters say Michael could strengthen into a major hurricane as it approaches Florida's coastline by midweek with dangerous storm surge flooding, hurricane winds, and heavy rainfall. Per the latest Weather Channel update, Michael is located 90 miles east of Cozumel, Mexico, and is moving northward at 7mph.
Hurricane watches have been issued for the Northwest Gulf Coast from Alabama/Florida border to Suwanee River, Florida. The Weather Channel said this includes Pensacola, Panama City, and Tallahassee.
Tropical storm watches have also been issued from Suwanee River, Florida, to Anna Maria Island, Florida, including Tampa Bay and from the Alabama/Florida border to the Mississippi/Alabama border.
"Michael will continue to move northward into the central Gulf of Mexico early this week, strengthening as it does so. As it approaches the eastern Gulf Coast, it will encounter a favorable environment for strengthening, and may become a Category 1-2 hurricane prior to landfall in the Florida Panhandle. There is an outside this system strengthens even more than forecast, but confidence on this scenario is low. Regardless, Michael should remain east of significant oil refineries as it approaches landfall early Wednesday, but unsettled weather as far as Louisiana is possible. Winds sustained between 80-100mph are possible along with significant rainfall and flooding along its track through this week," said Ed Vallee, head meteorologist at Vallee Weather Consulting LLC.
"Michael, while in a weakened state, may bring additional heavy rains to the already waterlogged portions of South and North Carolina, then potentially the Mid-Atlantic by Friday into the beginning of next weekend," Vallee warned.
US Rainfall totals in the last 180 days
Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued a state of emergency for 26 counties to rush storm preparation activities in the Florida Panhandle and the Big Bend area.
.@FLGovScott holds a news conference on Tropical Storm Michael, which is expected to strengthen to a hurricane as it barrels towards the Florida Panhandle. https://t.co/p9h6zd5AAy https://t.co/m9D69cIOr3— Fox News (@FoxNews) October 7, 2018
Approximately 500 members of the Florida National Guard have been activated. "This storm will be life-threatening and extremely dangerous," Scott said Sunday after receiving a weather briefing at the State Emergency Operations Center.
The Weather Channel expects the storm to gain hurricane status by Monday night or early Tuesday as it moves across the Yucatan Channel and then crosses the Gulf of Mexico, lining up for a direct hit on the Florida Panhandle by Wednesday.
The city of Tallahassee on Sunday is prepared for the worst, officials opened two locations where residents could get sandbags in case of flooding. "While the impacts are still uncertain, our area could experience increased wind activity and heavy rainfall, which could cause localized flooding and downed trees," Tallahassee city officials said in a statement.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is the Democratic nominee for governor, canceled his campaigning activities for the first half of this week to help with storm preparations. The city of Pensacola tweeted to residents, "Be sure you have your emergency plan in place."
Watch as air Force Hurricane Hunter flying through Tropical Storm Michael's eye.
*This story is developing...