iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Tropical Storm Michael has strengthened overnight and is nearing hurricane-force winds Monday morning as it sets its sights on the Florida Panhandle.
On Sunday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in 26 counties. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has mobilized resources from the federal government to assist in preparation early Monday.
"The Panhandle and Big Bend could see winds in excess of 100 mph," Scott said at a briefing Sunday evening. "Remember, this storm could grow stronger and be a Category 3 hitting our state. This storm will be life-threatening and extremely dangerous."
Officials first said the storm could strengthen into a Category 2 hurricane by the time it makes landfall midweek. But in a news conference Monday morning, Scott said that it could be a Category 3 hurricane.
The tropical storm had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph as of 7 a.m. on Monday. It is located 120 miles east of Cozumel, Mexico, and 70 miles west of Cuba.
The National Hurricane Center is forecasting storm surge between 7 and 11 feet in certain areas, Scott said Monday.
A hurricane watch has been issued for north Florida and a tropical storm watch has been issued for parts of the western coast of Florida, including Tampa.
A tropical storm watch has also been issued for the Alabama coast, including Mobile.
Landfall will come sometime Wednesday afternoon as a possible strong Category 2, bordering Category 3, hurricane somewhere near Panama City.
The storm will move further inland later in the week and bring rain and wind to Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. The Carolinas and Virginia were blasted by Hurricane Florence last month, which dumped more than 2 feet of rain in some locations and caused record flooding.
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