Update: Michael, moving toward the US Gulf Coast, is now a Category 1 hurricane, the National Hurricane Center said.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for 26 counties as Tropical Storm Michael lashed Cuba and is forecast to become a hurricane later Monday as it churns toward the United States.
Michael pounded western Cuba with heavy rain and strong winds and is forecast to make landfall as a hurricane midweek on the northeastern US Gulf Coast. That’s the region that stretches from Mobile, Alabama, through the Florida Panhandle and into the Big Bend area of northern Florida.
“Michael expected to become a hurricane very soon,” the National Hurricane Center announced in its 8 a.m. bulletin. “Michael is forecast to be near or at major hurricane strength when it reaches the northeastern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday night and Wednesday.”
Michael, which formed near the Yucatan Peninsula on Sunday, is expected to dump 4 to 8 inches of rain — and as much as 12 inches in some areas — on western Cuba before it hits the United States.
“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.
A hurricane warning is in effect for the Cuban province of Pinar del Rio and tropical storm warnings are posted for the Isle of Youth in Cuba and the coast of Mexico from Tulum to Cabo Catoche, including Cozumel.
A hurricane watch has been declared for the Alabama-Florida border to the Suwannee River in Florida. Tropical storm and storm surge watches have been issued from the Mississippi-Alabama border to Tampa Bay.
‘Everybody’s got to get ready’
Scott warned that Michael could reach land as a Category 2 hurricane, with winds in excess of 100 mph.
“This storm will be life-threatening and extremely dangerous,” Scott said at a press briefing.
“This storm has the potential to bring devastating impacts to communities across the Panhandle and Big Bend and every family must be prepared.”
Scott activated 500 National Guard troops in advance of the storm.
“Everybody’s got to get ready. Don’t take a chance,” he said. “We’re going to get storm surge, we have wind, we have a chance of flooding, we have a significant chance of tornadoes.”
The governor declared a state of emergency for Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Holmes, Washington, Bay, Jackson, Calhoun, Gulf, Gadsden, Liberty, Franklin, Leon, Wakulla, Jefferson, Madison, Taylor, Hamilton, Suwannee, Lafayette, Dixie, Columbia, Gilchrist, Levy and Citrus counties.
Hurricane warning in effect in Cuba
As of 8 a.m. ET Monday, Tropical Storm Michael was centered about 70 miles east-northeast of Cozumel, Mexico, and 70 miles south of the western tip of Cuba, the hurricane center said. The storm’s tropical storm-force winds extended 175 miles from its center.
Michael’s maximum sustained winds had reached 70 mph, it said. A Category 1 hurricane has sustained winds of 74 to 95 mph.
Candidates adjust campaign schedules
Michael’s trek to Florida is affecting politics in the state.
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum canceled campaign events in South Florida on Monday and Tuesday to prepare for the storm, his campaign said. The forecast projects Tallahassee, where Gillum is mayor, will be directly hit.
Meanwhile, Scott, the Republican nominee for US Senate, will be leaving the campaign trail for the “next few days” to address storm preparations, a campaign spokesperson told CNN.