Residents of Florida's Panhandle frantically filled sandbags, boarded up homes and secured boats in harbours Monday as they anxiously awaited Hurricane Michael, which forecasters warned could smash into the northeast Gulf Coast as a unsafe major hurricane within days.
Michael is expected to intensify into a category 3 storm, a major hurricane, before making landfall near Panama City, Florida. Parts of Florida's curvy Big Bend could see up to 12 feet (3.7 metres) of storm surge, while Michael also could dump up to a foot (30 centimetres) of rain over some Panhandle communities as it moves inland, forecasters said. Michael was located about 60 miles north-northwest of the western tip of Cuba and was moving north at 12 mph.
A hurricane watch has been declared for the Alabama-Florida border to the Suwannee River in Florida.
A storm surge warning - meaning risky flooding could strike in the next 36 hours - is in effect for a long swath of Florida's coast, from the Okaloosa-Walton county line east of Pensacola to the Anclote River, just north of Tampa Bay.
Florida State University announced it will close from Tuesday through Friday this week. "Again, Hurricane Michael is forecast to be the most destructive storm to hit the Florida Panhandle in decades". Hurricane watches are issued 48 hours before the arrival of tropical-storm-force winds which is when outside preparations become risky.
By 8 p.m. Monday, Michael's top sustained winds had risen some to 85 miles per hour (140 kph) as it headed north at 12 miles per hour (19 kph). The bottom line is that tropical storm force winds are likely, meaning winds ranging from 40 miles per hour to as high as 70+.
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Aside from winds potentially nearing 200 km/h, the storm's main impacts are expected to include extreme rainfall (up to and exceeding 250 mm in the worst-hit areas of the panhandle), flooding, the the potential for "life-threatening" mudslides in mountainous areas along its route. Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for residents of barrier islands, mobile homes and low-lying coastal areas in Gulf, Wakulla and Bay counties.
A Hurricane Warning is in effect for. DISCUSSION AND OUTLOOK -------- At 100 PM CDT (1800 UTC), the center of Tropical Storm Michael was located near latitude 19.2 North, longitude 86.9 West. Michael is now stationary but is expected to resume a slow northward motion later today.
"This is a part of the Gulf of Mexico that is incredibly vulnerable to storm surge", Graham said.
Saavedra said it is too early to say the exact track the storm will take but area residents should plan for severe weather around Thursday, though timing could change as confidence in tracking models increase. Exxon said it did not expect the staff reduction to affect output.
Tropical Storm Warnings have been issued over the northeastern portion of Mexico's Yucatan Penninsula and the western portions of Cuba ahead of the storm.
A separate storm system is forecast to drench the central U.S.in heavy rain on Monday. "It is critical that you take care of yourself, your family, and your business as Hurricane Michael approaches FL", Scott wrote on Twitter on Monday.