Hurricane Michael continues to strengthen over Gulf

- A hurricane hunter plane reports Michael has gotten a little stronger as it moves off of the western tip of Cuba. 

By 11 p.m. Monday, Michael's top sustained winds were around 90 mph (150 kph) as it headed north at 12 mph (19 kph).   TRACK THE STORM: OrlandoHurricane.com.

The National Hurricane Center says the storm was centered about 485 miles (780 kilometers) south of Panama City, Florida, and about 450 miles (725 kilometers) south of Apalachicola, Florida. Hurricane-force winds extend out up to 35 miles (55 kilometers) and tropical-storm-force winds outward about 175 miles (280 kilometers).

Forecasters at the Miami center say Michael is expected to strengthen quickly and become a major hurricane by Tuesday night. Landfall is expected Wednesday on Florida's northeast Gulf Coast. 

A Storm Surge Warning is in effect for the Okaloosa/Walton County line to the Anclote River in Florida. A Hurricane Warning is in effect for the Alabama/Florida border to the Suwannee River in Florida.

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

Speaking alongside emergency officials in Pasco County, Scott said Monday he's waiving tolls. He also has declared a state of emergency for 35 counties and asked President Donald Trump for assistance ahead of the storm.

The governor warns that storm surge could be as high as 8-10 feet (2.4-3 meters) in some parts of the Panhandle and 2-4 feet (0.6-1.2 meters) in the Tampa Bay area. Scott is urging people along the Gulf Coast to finish their storm preparations Monday evening.

Three Florida Panhandle counties have issued mandatory evacuation orders ahead of Hurricane Michael's expected landfall.

Residents of barrier islands, mobile homes and low-lying coastal areas in Gulf, Wakulla and Bay counties were ordered to evacuate by late Monday or early Tuesday.

In a Facebook post Monday, the Wakulla County Sheriff's Office said no shelters would be open in Wakulla County because Michael was forecast to become a major hurricane with winds topping 111 mph (178 kph).

The sheriff's office says Wakulla County shelters were rated safe only for hurricanes below that threshold. Residents are being urged to evacuate inland. The sheriff's office says Michael "has the potential to be a historic storm -- please take heed."

Following its forecasted track, the NHC says that Michael will move northward near the western tip of Cuba this Monday afternoon and into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico by Monday night. Michael will move across the eastern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday and is expected to move inland over the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend area on Wednesday. From there, it will move northeastward across the southeastern United States on Wednesday night and Thursday. 

STORM SURGE WATCH:

  • Navarre Florida to Anna Maria Island Florida, including Tampa Bay

HURRICANE WATCH:

  • Alabama-Florida border to Suwanee River Florida

TROPICAL STORM WATCH:

  • Suwanee River to Anna Maria Island Florida, including Tampa Bay
  • Alabama-Florida border to the Mississippi-Alabama border

A state of emergency was issued on Sunday by Florida Governor Rick Scott for the 26 counties in the Florida Panhandle and the Big Bend area. The declaration will free up resources for storm preparation.

Florida State University will close their main campus starting Tuesday, October 9th until Monday, October 15th. 

The Alachua County Humane Society also says that they are tracking Michael and have put the organization's Emergency Plan into effect. The organization is also spending Monday and Tuesday ensuring that all adoptable pets are placed into volunteer foster homes. They will also take in adoptable animals from affected partner counties. Donations of food and supplies are welcomed. 

The Levy County Department of Emergency Management says they are monitoring the hurricane's path, as they expected an impact with the main concern being the storm surge potential along the coast. They currently under a Tropical Storm Watch and a Storm Surge Watch. Severe weather is possible on Wednesday and Thursday. 

OneBlood is urging all eligible blood donors donate now, as the local not-for-profit blood center will have to suspend parts of its operations as Hurricane Michael moves closer. The most critical time for blood donations is prior to any storm in order to sustain the blood supply during and immediately after the event.  Operations in the Panhandle will be suspended as of Tuesday, while operations in Pensacola and Tallahassee will be suspended as of Wednesday. Operations in the Panhandle will resume on Thursday. Visit HERE for more information.

The NHC says that Michael is expected to cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline because of a dangerous storm surge and tide. Swells generated by Michael will affect the south coast of Cuba and the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Swells are expected to begin affecting the coast of the eastern and northern Gulf of Mexico during the next day or so. These swells can cause life-threatening surf and rip currents. 

They also believe that Michael will produce four to eight inches of rain in Western Cuba, with maximum amounts of 12 inches. This could lead to life-threatening flash floods and mudslides. The Florida Panhandle and Big Bend into the Carolinas is expected to get four to eight inches as well, with isolated maximum amounts of 12 inches. This may lead to life-threatening flash floods. The Florida Peninsula, Florida Keys, and portions of the mid-Atlantic States and the Southern New England coast will get two to four inches with local amounts of six inches. This could lead to life-threatening flash floods. The Yucatan Peninsula is only forecasted to get about one to two inches.

Be sure to keep up with the latest on the 2018 Hurricane Season HERE. And you can download your Hurricane Guide in English HERE or in Spanish HERE.   

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