MIAMI – Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency for 26 counties as Tropical Storm Michael gathers strength in the Caribbean and barrels toward the Florida Panhandle.
The storm is on track to become a hurricane on Monday, bringing heavy rain to the western tip of Cuba, before making landfall on the northeastern Gulf Coast on Wednesday.
‘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 in a news 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 also 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.”
Hurricane warning in effect in Cuba
As of 5 a.m. ET Monday, Tropical Storm Michael was centered about 90 miles east of Cozumel, Mexico, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm’s tropical storm-force winds extended 175 miles from its center, according to the weather center.
Michael’s maximum sustained winds had reached 70 mph, it said. A Category 1 hurricane has sustained winds of 74 to 95 mph.
“Additional strengthening is forecast, and Michael is expected to become a hurricane later today. Michael is forecast to be near or at major hurricane strength when it reaches the northeastern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday night and Wednesday,” the hurricane center said.
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.
The rainfall could lead to “life-threatening” flash floods and mudslides in mountainous regions, the hurricane center said.
A hurricane warning has been issued for the Cuban province of Pinar del Rio and tropical storm warnings are in effect for the Cuban province of Isle of Youth and the Mexican coast from Tulum to Cabo Catoche.
In the United States, a storm surge watch has been issued from Navarre, Florida to Anna Maria Island, Florida. A hurricane watch is in effect from the Alabama-Florida border eastward to the Suwanee River, and tropical storm watches have been issued from the Suwanee River to Anna Maria Island and from the Alabama-Florida border to the Mississippi-Alabama border.
Candidates adjust campaign schedules
Michael’s trek to Florida is also 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.