Florida declares emergency in 26 counties as Tropical Storm Michael approaches

Courtesy MGN

Courtesy MGN

Michael became a hurricane over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico this morning and is expected to strengthen before striking the Florida Panhandle, perhaps as a unsafe Category 2 hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Energy companies halted almost a fifth of Gulf of Mexico oil production and evacuated staff from 10 platforms on Monday as Michael was forecast to become the strongest of three named storms to affect the U.S. Gulf of Mexico this year.

As of 8 a.m. ET, Tropical Storm Michael is located 120 miles east-northeast of Cozumel, Mexico and about 70 miles south of the western tip of Cuba.

A hurricane warning covered Florida's Gulf Coast from the Alabama state line to the Suwannee River.

A storm surge warning - meaning risky flooding could strike in the next 36 hours - is in effect for a long swath of Florida's coast, from the Okaloosa-Walton county line east of Pensacola to the Anclote River, just north of Tampa Bay.

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, Florida A&M University, and Tallahassee Community College will close on October 9, for the remainder of the week due to Hurricane Michael.

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It is expected to be a violent Category 3 hurricane - with the power to uproot trees, block roads and knock out power for days - by the time it hits Florida on Wednesday, before moving across the southeastern United States through Thursday.

The National Hurricane Center has issued a Hurricane Watch from the Alabama-Florida line eastward to the Suwanee River, Florida.

By 5 p.m. Monday, Michael's top sustained winds were around 80 miles per hour (129 kph) as it headed north at 9 miles per hour (14.5 kph). Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 35 miles (56 kilometers) from the core and tropical-storm-force winds out 175 miles (280 kilometers).

Michael has intensified into a hurricane and the National Weather Service has issued a hurricane watch for most of the Florida Panhandle and the Big Bend.

"This storm will be life-threatening and extremely unsafe", Scott said Sunday after receiving a briefing at the State Emergency Operations Center.

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.

An Air Force hurricane hunter airplane was sent into the storm to investigate, the hurricane center said.

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Incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who is being challenged by Scott in the November election, also visited the Bay County and state emergency-operations center Monday.

"I haven't made up my mind yet, but I know some of my staff are going", said Dave Trepanier, owner of Firefly, a restaurant a block from the beach in Panama City, Bay County, an area where the hurricane is expected to come ashore.

Earlier Monday, Scott expanded the state of emergency he declared on Sunday from 26 to 35 counties. "Tropical storm conditions are expected over the northeastern Yucatan Peninsula and the Isle of Youth today", the center said. We handle them very well...

"You can't survive storm surge", he said.

"Michael is expected to produce heavy rainfall and flash flooding over portions of western Cuba and the northeastern Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico during the next couple of days", the center said.

"It would be a tropical storm for us", Saavedra said.

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