(NOAA)

Florida Panhandle in Path of Rapidly Strengthening Hurricane Michael

The National Hurricane Center warned today that a potentially life-threatening storm is on track to slam the Florida panhandle in two days.

A hurricane watch is in effect for Alabama-Florida border to Suwannee River, Fla., thanks to Hurricane Michael, which today was located between the Yucatan Peninsula and western tip of Cuba and is headed due north.

“A northward motion at a slightly faster forward speed is expected through Tuesday night, followed by a northeastward motion on Wednesday and Thursday. 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,” the National Hurricane Center reported today. “Michael will move across the eastern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday and Tuesday night, and is expected to move inland over the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend area on Wednesday, and then move northeastward across the southeastern United States Wednesday night and Thursday.”

“Data from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate that maximum sustained winds have increased to near 75 mph (120 km/h) with higher gusts,” the NHC added. “Steady to rapid strengthening is forecast during the next day or so, and Michael is forecast to become a major hurricane by Tuesday or Tuesday night.”

Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 30 miles from the center, NOAA added, and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 175 miles.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency on Sunday in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Holmes, Washington, Bay, Jackson, Calhoun, Gulf, Gadsden, Liberty, Franklin, Leon, Wakulla, Jefferson, Madison, Taylor, Hamilton, Suwannee, Lafayette, Dixie, Columbia, Gilchrist, Levy and Citrus counties.

The State Emergency Operations Center activated to Level 1 this morning, and 500 National Guardsmen are being activated “to assist with planning and logistics, and to prepare for response in impacted areas,” Scott’s office said.

“Our state understands how serious tropical weather is and how devastating any hurricane or tropical storm can be. As we continue to monitor this storm’s northward path toward Florida, it is critically important that our communities have every available resource to keep everyone safe and prepared,” Scott said. “If any Florida family doesn’t have an emergency preparedness plan, now is the time to act.”

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