Allen Cone, Daniel Uria and Ed Adamczyk

Tropical Storm Michael is seen approaching the Gulf of Mexico early Monday. States of emergency were declared in more than two dozen Florida counties ahead of the storm. Image courtesy NOAA
Oct. 8 (UPI) — A hurricane watch has been issued for the Florida Panhandle as Tropical Storm Michael began slowly moving toward the Yucatan Channel, the National Hurricane Center said Monday.

Michael was about 120 miles east-northeast of Cozumel, Mexico, and 70 miles south-southwest of the western trip of Cuba, the NHC said in 7 a.m. CDT advisory Monday. The storm was moving north at 7 mph with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph, just below the threshold of a Category 1 hurricane.

A storm surge warning is in effect for Navarre, Fla., to Anna Maria Island, Fla., including Tampa Bay. A hurricane watch is in effect from the Florida-Alabama border eastward to Florida’s Suwanee River. States of emergency were issued for more than two dozen Florida counties.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Sunday evening 500 National Guardsmen have been activated for planning, logistics and response. He added that the effects of the storm could have similarities to Hurricane Hermine, which caused lengthy power outages in the Tallahassee area two years ago.

RELATED Typhoon Kong-rey heads toward Japan

“Remember, this storm could grow stronger and be a Category 3 hitting our state,” Scott said.

The storm’s center is expected to move northward across the Yucatan Channel on Monday and across the eastern Gulf of Mexico through Wednesday. The storm is expected to move inland over the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend area by Wednesday, and then move northeastward across the southeastern United States, the NHC said. Once it reaches land, Michael is forecast to weaken into a tropical storm when it passes through the East Coast, including the New York City area, by Friday morning.

As many as 7 inches of rain are expected over western Cuba and 4 inches over the Yucatan Peninsula, Belize and northern Honduras through Tuesday.

RELATED Florence death toll hits 50 with 2 new reports in North Carolina

Storm surges of up to 11 feet have been predicted by the NHC on the Florida coast. The Tampa Bay area could see up to 4 feet.

The only other storm currently in the Atlantic Ocean is Tropical Storm Leslie, which has zig-zagged in intensity. Maximum sustained winds are near 60 mph with higher gusts, the NHC said in a 5 a.m. advisory, adding that slow strengthening is forecast during the next few days. Leslie was a subtropical storm on Sept. 23 but weakened into depression, then back into a tropical storm. It remains several hundred miles from the United States and the Caribbean region.

read more