The National Hurricane Center (NHC) says that Tropical Storm Michael was nearly a hurricane early Monday and is expected to reach Category 2 or stronger as it churns over the Gulf of Mexico in the next couple of days.
Michael battered parts of Mexico and Cuba with powerful winds and drenching rains on Sunday and into early Monday as it churned in the Caribbean.
Astronomical King Tide cycles will cause extra high storm surge on portions of the Florida Gulf Coast with the highest 7-11 foot surge near Apalachicola to Crystal River, 4-6 feet near Crystal River to Anclote River, and 2-4 feet around Tampa Bay.
The storm was centred about 50 miles (80 kilometres) off the western tip of Cuba, and about 140 miles (220 kilometres) east-northeast of Cozumel, Mexico.
"Michael is forecast to be near or at major hurricane strength when it reaches the northeastern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday night and Wednesday", said a 7 a.m. update from the center. A northward motion at a slightly faster forward speed is expected through Tuesday night, followed by a northeastward motion on Wednesday and Thursday.
Michael is the 13th named storm of the 2018 hurricane season, according to hurricane center spokesman Dennis Feltgen. Tropical storm watches extend farther south through the Tampa Bay area to Anna Maria Island and, to the west, along the Alabama coast. Another Watch is in effect for the Alabama-Florida border to the Mississippi-Alabama border.
A tropical storm watch was issued from Suwannee River to Anna Maria Island, which also includes Tampa Bay. The Florida Panhandle and Big Bend areas are expected to receive as much as 12 inches of rain and may see flash flooding.
"This storm will be life-threatening and extremely unsafe", Scott said after receiving a briefing at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. "This storm has the potential to bring devastating impacts to communities across the Panhandle and Big Bend and every family must be prepared", he noted.
The NHC forecasters said the storm has become better organized Monday morning, and the westerly wind shear that was supposed to curtail its strengthening hasn't had the desired effect.
And during a Monday morning meeting with the EOC, Scott announced he has activated the state assistance information line to provide additional resources for residents concerned with Michaels status.
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum canceled campaign events in South Florida on Monday and Tuesday to prepare for the storm, his campaign said.