Hurricane Michael strengthens as it heads toward Gulf of Mexico

The storm, the 7th Atlantic hurricane of 2018, was starting to form an eye.

The storm now has maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour.

A Hurricane Watch is in effect for the Florida panhandle, and a tropical storm watch is in effect much of Florida's west coast, reports the center. "Michael is forecast to be near or at major hurricane strength when it reaches the northeastern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday night and Wednesday".

At 2 p.m. ET, Michael was centered about 145 miles northeast of Cozumel, Mexico, and 20 miles southwest of the western tip of Cuba Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 30 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 175 miles.

Manatee County also was included in Scott's request that President Donald Trump declare a pre-landfall emergency in those 35 counties in preparation for Hurricane Michael.

Given its current forecast track, Michael also has the potential to wreak havoc on parts of SC already reeling from post-Florence flooding.

"So dependent on where that eye is, is going to make a determination on what we're going to see in wind, rain and surge as it goes up", Litschauer said.

"Hurricane conditions will spread over portions of western Cuba this afternoon, where a hurricane warning is now in effect".




An Air Force hurricane hunter airplane was sent into the storm to investigate, the hurricane centre said. But within hours Sunday it had gained more punch and its top sustained winds clocked in at 60 mph (95 kph) by late Sunday evening.

The most troubling part for forecasters is how powerful Michael could become when it eventually moves into the very warm Gulf of Mexico waters by tonight.

"You've got to take care of yourself", said Scott after a briefing at the Bay County Emergency Operations Center in Southport.

Tropical Storm Michael formed on Sunday in the Caribbean Sea and appears to have designs on the panhandle and big bend regions of Florida, according to early forecast tracks.

"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. Rainfall is a lesser threat due to the storm's progressive movement to the north.

Alabama and Georgia - along with waterlogged North and SC - remain very much in the path of this system over the coming week.

Storm surge just east of where the center makes landfall could reach 8 to 12 feet, if the storm comes ashore around high tide.

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