October 7, 2018 – A tropical depression churning in the Caribbean was upgraded to Tropical Storm Michael and may strengthen to a hurricane mid-week as it heads toward the Florida Panhandle, forecasters said.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center on Sunday said the storm had winds of up to 40 mph and advised residents along the northeastern and central U.S. Gulf Coast to monitor the storm’s progress.
The storm was about 90 miles south of Cozumel, Mexico by mid-day Sunday.
Tropical storm warnings have been posted for western Cuba and Mexico’s northeastern Yucatan Peninsula, including Cancun. Tropical-storm-force winds (39-plus mph) are expected to first reach the tropical storm warning area Sunday evening or Sunday night, making outside preparations difficult or dangerous.
Rainfall totals of 3 to 7 inches are forecast over western Cuba, with 2 to 4 inches over the Yucatan Peninsula, Belize and northern Honduras through Tuesday. Isolated maximum amounts of 12 inches are possible in western Cuba.
These downpours could contribute to life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides, particularly in areas of mountainous terrain.
Forecast: U.S. Gulf Coast Threat Midweek
Forecast guidance is unanimous that Michael will be drawn northward through the Gulf of Mexico and likely pose a threat to parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast by midweek.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday said he planned to declare a state of emergency for counties in the Florida Panhandle and the Big Bend area of the state. The declaration will free up resources for storm preparation.
“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 in a statement.
The storm was about 90 miles (145 kilometers) south of Cozumel, Mexico early Sunday, and it was moving north at about 6 mph (9 kph) with maximum sustained winds at 35 mph (55 kph).
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.
– Timing: Landfall is most likely to occur somewhere between the Mississippi/Alabama border and the Florida Panhandle or Big Bend Wednesday into Wednesday night. Depending on how quickly this system moves northward, the center of Michael could approach the Gulf Coast as soon as late Tuesday. After landfall, this system will then move farther inland across the southeastern U.S. into late-week.
– Intensity: The National Hurricane Center is forecasting this system to be a Category 1 hurricane when it makes landfall.
– Rainfall: Heavy rain is likely to spread inland from the Gulf Coast midweek to other parts of the Southeast into late-week. Some of this heavy rain could affect parts of the Carolinas that were devastated by flooding from Hurricane Florence. That said, this system is unlikely to stall like Florence did and will, therefore, not bring extreme rainfall amounts.