Michael strengthens into a hurricane, menaces Florida

Posted October 09, 2018

Florida was warned Monday to plan for "life-threatening" flash flooding as Michael heads for the US Gulf Coast, where it is expected to make landfall midweek as a major Category 3 hurricane.

Fueled by warm tropical waters, Michael gained new strength by nightfall and could reach major hurricane status with winds topping 111 miles per hour (179 kph) before its anticipated landfall Wednesday on the Panhandle or Big Bend area of Florida, forecasters warn.

With Hurricane Michael churning Monday toward the northeast Gulf Coast, forecasts for Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley region indicate tropical storm conditions are possible, including heavy rain, gusty winds and thunderstorms. By Monday morning, the storm's maximum sustained winds were near 70 miles per hour.

A hurricane warning covered Florida's Gulf Coast from the Alabama state line to the Suwannee River. Far inland, from the Florida Panhandle into Georgia and the Carolinas, rainfall totals are predicted to be up to 8 inches, with a foot of rain possible in isolated areas.

Swells are already expected to start impacting eastern and northern parts of the Gulf of Mexico in the next or so and are likely to cause "life-threatening surf and rip current conditions".

Florida State University said its campuses in Tallahassee and Panama City would be closed from Tuesday through Friday. "A hurricane watch has been issued from the Alabama/Florida border westward to the Mississippi/Alabama border".

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By 4 p.m. Monday, Michael's top sustained winds were around 75 miles per hour (120 kph). Tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 205 miles (335 km) primarily to the east of the center.

Rick Scott says Hurricane Michael is a "monstrous storm" that has the potential to be devastating to the Florida Panhandle.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is also the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in the November 6 election, said on Sunday he was cancelling his campaign events and returning to Tallahassee, the state capital, to focus on storm preparations.

Mark Wool, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, said the storm will be more damaging than Hurricane Hermine, which hit Tallahassee and other areas of the Big Bend in 2016.

"This storm has the potential to be a historic storm, please take heed", the sheriff's office said in the post.

Manatee County is under storm surge and tropical storm watches.

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The storm was expected to brush the westernmost province of Pinar Del Rio, where most of Cuba's famed cigar tobacco is grown, before continuing north to the United States.

Jeff Hanson, the owner of Paisley Cafe in Tallahassee, said he was waiting until Wednesday morning to decide whether he would close the restaurant.

Tropical Storm Warnings have been issued over the northeastern portion of Mexico's Yucatan Penninsula and the western portions of Cuba ahead of the storm.

Forecasters also measure hurricane intensity by central pressure, with lower pressures denoting a tighter circulation, better organization, and more powerful storm. The threat along the coast includes serious storm surge.

A satellite image of Tropical Storm Michael taken Monday.

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