Hurricane Michael is expected to strengthen into a Category-2 or 3 storm by the time it hits the Florida Gulf Coast by midweek. A hurricane watch is in effect for the entire Panhandle region.
As of midday Monday, Michael was a Category-1 storm, packing sustained winds of 75 mph about 20 miles southwest of the western tip of Cuba. Movement was to the North at seven mph. Michael is expected to strengthen further -- with winds topping 111 mph by Tuesday night -- before hitting Florida's Panhandle or Big Bend.
“The first thing people are going to notice if they’re down at the beach is going to be the large waves that are going to be generated by Hurricane Michael,” says John Purdy at the National Weather Service in Mobile. “
Because Michael is a large system the wind, says Purdy, will be a factor and possibly could create a rather large wind field.
“With winds out of the northeast on the back side, the west side of Michael; that could result in downed trees and possible power lines,” Purdy says. “So we’re keeping an eye out for the impacts from winds.”
When the disturbance was first tracked in the Caribbean, it showed a due north movement. Purdy says Michael’s eastward shift in the past few days has been influenced by a large trough across the western United States.
“And as that trough continues to dig, it kinda nudges it a little bit further to the east,” says Purdy. “I guess the good news is for our area is we’ll be on the west side of major Hurricane Michael, which has the lower impacts and drier weather.”
Thirty-five counties – including Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton – are under a state of emergency declared by Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday. The Governor is also asking the federal government for a pre-landfall emergency for the counties.
“Today is the time to get a plan, do not put it off; there isn’t any reason not to be prepared to keep your family safe,” Scott said during a briefing in Panama City. “Visit www.floridadisaster.org to make a plan and get information on road closures, shelters, and evacuation routes.”
The declaration frees up resources, and activates 500 Florida National Guard troops -- roughly 10 percent of the force available for deployment if needed -- to assist with planning, logistics and response to impacted areas. Meanwhile, the state Emergency Operations Center went to Level-1 this morning.
“That means the Panhandle and Big Bend can see winds in excess of 100 mph,” said the Governor. “Remember, this storm could grow stronger and be a Category-3 hitting our state. This storm will be life-threatening and extremely dangerous.
Local emergency ops centers are monitoring the situation, including Escambia County – where Chris Holloman is Operations Coordinator.
“Receiving updates from the National Weather Service,” Holloman says. “They are showing [Michael] to go well east of us – Panama City, Apalachicola area – which is favorable for us. However, that could change really at any moment.”
Residents can help out by keeping tabs on Michael through the media, and by getting ready in case it’s time to get moving. And Holloman says don’t take the “Cone of Uncertainty” surrounding the storm on the National Hurricane Center’s website as the gospel.
“They feel the track of the storm will stay somewhere within that cone, but it wouldn’t be unusual for it to stray from the cone,” says Holloman. “Make sure you’ve got fuel in your vehicles, an emergency plan enough food and water to last you 72 hours in case it does get bad here.”
Santa Rosa County officials are calling for immediate voluntary evacuations for mobile home parks, campsites and low-lying areas ahead of Hurricane Michael. Both the Escambia and Santa Rosa School Districts will have early release on Tuesday, and closed on Wednesday.