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Michael becomes hurricane, could hit Florida Panhandle as Category 2 storm

CNN

MIAMI (CBSNews/AP) -- A tropical weather system rapidly strengthened into Hurricane Michael off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, and forecasters said it was moving Monday into the Gulf of Mexico, where warm waters would continue to fuel its development. Michael was likely to strengthen into a Category 2 hurricane sometime Tuesday, meteorologist Danielle Niles of CBS Boston station WBZ-TV reports.

Michael could strengthen into a major hurricane, the term for storms reaching Category 3 and higher, with winds topping 111 mph by Tuesday night before an expected strike on Florida's Panhandle or Big Bend, according to the National Hurricane Center. By 11 a.m. Monday, Michael's top sustained winds were around 75 mph.

The storm was centered about 50 miles off the western tip of Cuba, and about 140 miles east-northeast of Cozumel, Mexico. It was moving north around 7 mph.

The storm will spend two to three days over the Gulf, which has very warm water temperatures and favorable atmospheric conditions. Because of that, "there is a real possibility that Michael will strengthen to a major hurricane before landfall," Robbie Berg, a hurricane specialist at the Miami-based storm forecasting hub, wrote in an advisory.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued an order for a state of emergency for 26 counties to rush preparations in the Panhandle and the Big Bend area, freeing up resources and activating 500 members of the Florida National Guard. "This storm will be life-threatening and extremely dangerous," Scott said Sunday after receiving a briefing at the State Emergency Operations Center.

Scott warned that storm surge could affect areas of Florida not in the storm's direct path. Forecasters advised residents along the northeastern and central U.S. Gulf Coast to monitor the storm's progress.

Ahead of the storm, Florida State University announced that it would shut down after midnight Monday and remain closed for the rest of the week. The school's main campus is in Florida's capital city of Tallahassee, which is in the Panhandle, and a satellite campus is in Panama City on the Panhandle's coast.

Tallahassee opened two locations Sunday where residents could get sandbags to prepare for flooding. "While the impacts are still uncertain, our area could experience increased wind activity and heavy rainfall, which could cause localized flooding and downed trees," Tallahassee officials said in a statement.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is the Democratic nominee for governor, had planned to campaign in South Florida on Monday and Tuesday, but he said he would return to Tallahassee to help with storm preparations. The city of Pensacola tweeted to residents, "Be sure you have your emergency plan in place."

Michael was lashing western Cuba late Monday morning with heavy rains and strong winds, according to the hurricane center. Forecasters warned that the storm could produce up to a foot of rain in western Cuba, potentially triggering flash floods and mudslides in mountainous areas.

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ORLANDO, Fla. (CBSNews) -- A tropical storm that formed rapidly off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula has gained strength and could become a dangerous Category 2 hurricane with an expected midweek strike on the Gulf Coast over the Florida Panhandle, forecasters say.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for 26 counties to rush preparations in the Florida Panhandle and the Big Bend area, freeing up resources and activating 500 members of the Florida National Guard.

"This storm will be life-threatening and extremely dangerous," Scott said Sunday after receiving a briefing at the State Emergency Operations Center. He warned that a storm surge could affect areas of Florida not in the storm's direct path.

Michael emerged Sunday as a tropical storm with winds of up to 50 mph. But within hours, it gained more punch and its top sustained winds clocked in at 60 mph by late Sunday evening.

The storm is expected to gain hurricane status by Monday night or Tuesday as its center moves over the Yucatan Channel and then crosses the Gulf of Mexico, nearing the Florida Panhandle coast by Wednesday.

The storm was located by 2 a.m.  EDT Monday about 105 miles east-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico and was moving north at about 4 mph. Tropical storm winds extended out 170 miles, primarily to the northeast and southeast of the storm's center.

Forecasters advised residents along the northeastern and central U.S. Gulf Coast to monitor the storm's progress.

Florida's capital, Tallahassee opened two locations Sunday where residents could get sandbags to get ready for possible flooding.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who's the Democratic nominee for governor, was planning to campaign in South Florida Monday and Tuesday, but said he would return to Tallahassee to help with storm preparations.

CBS Tallahassee affiliate WCTV says, "The Big Bend and South Georgia should prepare for tropical storm force winds by Wednesday. Winds in excess of 40 mph would be enough to knock over trees, power lines, and cause power outages. Heavy rain and flash flooding is also possible. The possibility of hurricane-force winds will be highest along the immediate coast and closest to Michael's center around landfall."

The city of Pensacola tweeted to residents, "Be sure you have your emergency plan in place."

A tropical storm warning was in effect for the Cuban provinces of Pinar del Rio and the Isle of Youth as well as the coast of Mexico from Tulum to Cabo Catoche. A warning indicates tropical storm conditions are expected, in this case, within 24 hours.

The hurricane center warned that the storm could produce a foot of rain in western Cuba, potentially triggering flash floods and mudslides in mountainous areas.

Michael is the 13th named storm of the 2018 hurricane season, according to hurricane center spokesperson Dennis Feltgen.

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