(RNN) - Hurricane Michael is expected to continue growing more severe before it hits northwest Florida this week.
The National Hurricane Center reported the storm reached hurricane strength in its 11 a.m. ET reportMonday. The storm is expected to make landfall somewhere along the Florida Panhandle then cut a path across the Southeast later in the week, potentially including parts of Alabama, Georgia and heading northward to Virginia.
Michael has sustained winds of 75 mph and moving north at around 7 mph. It was located about 50 miles south of the western end of Cuba at 11 a.m., the NHC stated, and a hurricane watch has been issued for the Cuban province of Pinar del Rio.
Tropical storm warnings were issued for other parts of Cuba and the Mexico coast.
The NHC forecasters said the storm has become better organized Monday morning, and the westerly wind shear that was supposed to curtail its strengthening didn’t have the desired effect.
The storm is expected to continue northward through Tuesday night, during which time it will strengthen, helped by the favorable conditions in the Gulf of Mexico.
It is expected to become a major hurricane Tuesday night or Wednesday.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency. The Florida Keys are expected to receive as much as 4 inches of rain through Tuesday. The Florida Panhandle and Big Bend areas are expected to receive as much as 12 inches of rain and may see flash flooding.
Forecasters say Michael could move inland over the Florida Panhandle or Big Bend area Wednesday. It will bring dangerous storm surge, damaging winds and heavy rain.
TS Michael has the potential to bring devastating impacts to communities across the panhandle and the big bend. Every family must be prepared.
— Rick Scott (@FLGovScott) October 7, 2018
A hurricane watch is in effect for the Alabama-Florida border to the Suwannee River in Florida.
A tropical storm watch is in effect for the Suwannee River to Anna Maria Island in Florida, including Tampa Bay, and the Alabama-Florida border to the Mississippi-Alabama border.
Storm surge warnings are in place for the following locations:
- Indian Pass to Crystal River - 7 to 11 feet
- Crystal River to Anclote River - 4 to 6 feet
- Okaloosa/Walton County Line to Indian Pass - 4 to 7 feet
- Anclote River to Anna Maria Island, including Tampa Bay - 2 to 4 feet
- Navarre to Okaloosa/Walton County Line - 2 to 4 feet
A Storm Surge Watch has been issued from Navarre, FL to Anna Maria Island, FL, including Tampa Bay. A Storm Surge Watch is issued when life-threatening storm surge of at least 3 feet is possible. pic.twitter.com/WoRrA7FUqa
— NHC_Surge (@NHC_Surge) October 8, 2018
The storm is expected to head north before taking a northeast turn and making landfall. Forecasters expect Michael to re-emerge over water by the end of the week, becoming extra-tropical by the weekend.
Before heading toward the U.S., Michael is expected to dump 4 to 8 inches of rain on western Cuba.
Tropical Storm #Michael is strengthening and it is almost a hurricane. Hurricane and tropical storm watches are now in effect for portions of the Gulf Coast. Here are the 4 am CDT October 8th Key Messages. Go to https://t.co/tW4KeGdBFb for more information. pic.twitter.com/BEkmH6UvQL
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) October 8, 2018
In light of the storm, Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum suspended his campaign activity to address preparations for the storm, according to CNN. The storm is forecast to hit Tallahassee, FL, where Gillum is mayor.
Scott, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, has not yet adjusted his campaign schedule but is working on the state’s response to the storm, including activating 500 National Guard troops.
As Tropical Storm Michael approaches, I will be returning to Tallahassee to focus on preparing the City and residents for what may come. Everyone please stay safe, stay informed, and be prepared for these changing weather conditions.
— Andrew Gillum (@AndrewGillum) October 7, 2018
Tropical Storm Michael, the 13th named storm of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, formed near Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on Sunday.
The sixth named storm and first major hurricane, Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane the morning of Sept. 14 at Wrightsville Beach, NC.
It left at least 51 people dead across North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, according to Reuters. The amount of damage, particularly from flooding associated with the storm, is expected to reach 11 figures.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Leslie is hanging around in the middle of the Atlantic.
The storm has maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, and slow strengthening is forecast in the next few days.
There are no coastal watches or warnings in effect for Leslie.
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