Michael was a Category 1 storm, with sustained winds of up to 90 miles per hour (150 kph), and gaining strength after it skirted Cuba's western tip, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said early on Tuesday.
Michael's large size, strong winds and heavy rains could produce hazardous flooding along a stretch of Florida's Gulf coast with many rivers and estuaries where seawater pushed ashore by a hurricane could get trapped, said Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham.
With maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour, Michael was 2 miles per hour shy of a Category 5 hurricane when it struck land.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the storm could unleash coastal storm surges of up to 3.7 meters along the Florida Panhandle and dump up to 30 cm of rain across Florida, Georgia and SC.
As Hurricane Michael aims for the Florida Panhandle, people are boarding up and moving out.
Outer rain bands from Michael are already affecting the Florida Keys and estimated two to four inches of rainfall are likely there today. Mobile and Baldwin Counties are also under a Hurricane Watch.
"We expect less rain to fall with Michael, when compared to Florence", Kottlowski said.
Rain chances stand at 60 percent in Orlando on Tuesday and Wednesday before jumping to 70 percent on Thursday.
Chatham Emergency Management Agency has entered OPCON 4 and is monitoring Tropical Storm Michael.
"Heavy rainfall, wind and storm surge impacts will be possible across portions of the northern Gulf Coast by midweek", according to the hurricane center. Storm surge warnings were also in place along the Florida and Alabama coasts.
"#Michael could be one of the worst hurricanes to strike the Florida Big Bend and Florida Panhandle region", Rick Knabb, the hurricane expert at The Weather Channel, tweeted on Monday.
The National Hurricane Center indicates that Tropical Storm Michael has strengthened and is now Hurricane Michael, centered over the northwest Caribbean Sea.
Though Michael has a fierce core of winds around its eye, one of the biggest concerns with its eventual landfall is the storm surge likely to come in points east of wherever the hurricane's eye makes landfall.
The sheriff's office says Wakulla County shelters were rated safe only for hurricanes below that threshold. A hurricane warning was issued from the Alabama-Florida border eastwards to Suwannee River. On Sunday, CEMA urged residents to maintain awareness of the storm.
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