MIAMI – Tropical Storm Michael formed Sunday and could become a hurricane in a day or two as it gains strength and heads toward the Florida Panhandle, forecasters said.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center upgraded the tropical depression in the Caribbean to a named tropical storm during the day, saying Michael had winds of up to 50 mph. By Sunday afternoon, the Miami-based forecasting center said, Michael had gained more punch and the threat to the northeast U.S. Gulf Coast was rising.
The storm could strengthen into a hurricane by Monday night or Tuesday as its center moves over the Yucatan Channel, crosses the Gulf of Mexico and nears the Florida Panhandle coast sometime Wednesday, the center said.
Forecasters are advising residents along the northeastern and central U.S. Gulf Coast to monitor the storm’s progress.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday said he planned to declare a state of emergency for counties in the Florida Panhandle and the Big Bend area of the state. The declaration would free up resources for storm preparation.
“As we continue to monitor this storm’s northward path toward Florida, it is critically important that our communities have every available resource to keep everyone safe and prepared,” Scott said in a statement.
The north Florida city of Tallahassee on Sunday 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 officials said in a statement.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is the Democratic nominee for governor, had planned to campaign in South Florida Monday and Tuesday, but he said he would return to Tallahassee to help with storm preparations.
The city of Pensacola tweeted to residents, “Be sure you have your emergency plan in place.”
The storm was located by 5 p.m. ET Sunday afternoon about 130 miles southeast of Cozumel, Mexico and moving to the north-northeast at about 3 mph. Tropical storm winds extended out 205 miles, primarily east of the storm’s center.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for the Cuban provinces of Pinar del Rio and the Isle of Youth as well as the coast of Mexico from Tulum to Cabo Catoche. A warning indicates tropical storm conditions are expected, in this case, within 24 hours.
The hurricane center warned that the storm could produce a foot of rain in western Cuba, potentially triggering flash floods and mudslides in mountainous areas.
An Air Force hurricane hunter airplane was sent into the storm to investigate, the hurricane center said.
Michael is the 13th named storm of the 2018 hurricane season, according to hurricane center spokesman Dennis Feltgen.
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