MIAMI-A tropical storm off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula has rapidly strengthened and could become a unsafe hurricane before an expected mid-week strike on the Gulf Coast in the Florida Panhandle, forecasters said Monday.
It is expected that Michael, now centered about 90 miles east of Cozumel, Mexico, will dump four to eight inches of rain, with totals reaching more than 12 inches in isolated areas, potentially causing "life-threatening" flash floods and mudslides, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The storm, with maximum sustained winds of 70 miles per hour, is expected to become a hurricane later today-and could be a major hurricane by Tuesday night or Wednesday.
The Storm Surge Watch means the Tampa Bay area experience "life-threatening" flooding from rising water moving inland from the coastline during the next 48 hours, according to the Hurricane Center. On the forecast track, the center of Michael will move northward near the western tip of Cuba this afternoon and into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico by tonight. Forecasters say the powerful storm could bring heavy rainfall, storm surge and "dangerous" winds increasing for the northeastern Gulf Coast.
The track takes the developing storm as a hurricane toward a landfall near the Florida Panhandle Wednesday.
"Michael expected to become a hurricane very soon", the National Hurricane Center announced in its 8 a.m. bulletin in Monday.
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Michael has become a hurricane as the storm gets ready to move into the Gulf of Mexico. Forecasters warned that the storm could produce up to 30 centimetres of rain in western Cuba, potentially triggering flash floods and mudslides in mountainous areas. He warned that storm surge could affect areas of Florida not in the storm's direct path.
A hurricane watch has been issued from the Alabama-Florida border eastward to the Suwanee River, Florida.
"This storm will be life-threatening and extremely unsafe", Scott said after receiving a briefing at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.
Michael's trek to Florida is affecting politics in the state. The storm's tropical storm-force winds extended 175 miles from its center.
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum canceled campaign events in South Florida on Monday and Tuesday to prepare for the storm, his campaign said.