'Potentially catastrophic' Hurricane Michael strengthens to Category 2, targets Florida

An American flag flies amongst rubble left in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach Florida

An American flag flies amongst rubble left in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach Florida

Hurricane Michael continues to push towards the Gulf of Mexico and looks to continue its trend of rapidly strengthening.

By 5 p.m. Monday, Michael's top sustained winds were around 80 miles per hour (129 kph) as it headed north at 9 miles per hour (14.5 kph).

As Hurricane Michael barrels through the Gulf of Mexico and takes aim at Florida and the Carolinas, Richland and Lexington counties were placed under a Tropical Storm Watch, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A hurricane Warning was issued from the Alabama-Florida border eastward to Suwannee River.

The storm - now located over the Gulf of Mexico - is sweeping toward the Florida coast at around 12 miles per hour and is expected to make landfall on Wednesday, bringing with it "life-threatening" storm surges and heavy rainfall, the National Hurricane Centre said.

The storm was forecast to move through the southeastern United States on Wednesday and Thursday, passing through Georgia and the Carolinas, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month.

It's likely that Hurricane Michael will cause beach erosion for 75 percent of Florida's Gulf Coast Beaches, the USGS predicted. The state has issued voluntary evacuation orders for parts of Calhoun, Gadsden, Hernando, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Pasco, Santa Rosa and Taylor counties.

The Florida Peninsula, eastern mid Atlantic and southern New England coast could see as much as 3 inches of rain.

A storm surge warning is in effect from the Okaloosa-Walton County line to the Anclote River in Florida.

The storm will bring an 8-12 foot storm surge.

Even if the storm stays offshore and doesn't directly impact the region, we'll be seeing some soaking rains later this week, partly fueled by Michael.

The governor also told Florida hospitals and nursing homes to do all they can to assure the safety of the frail and elderly.

Either way, residents should "be prepared like you would with any approaching storm", he said.

Predicting a hurricane is always a tricky business, and Ricketts allowed that "the track can always change", but she's relatively confident in this forecast, because the cold front "is really strong, and there's nothing really slowing it down".

Interested in Hurricane Michael?

"Residents in these areas should follow advice given by local officials".

"Because of the damage caused by Hurricane Florence, and the fact that there's still some standing water in places, we have to be that much more alert about the damage that Hurricane Matthew could do", Cooper said.

Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for 35 counties and said he was seeking a federal disaster declaration from President Donald Trump, who promised full support for Florida's efforts.

He said, "There's nothing between us and this storm but warm water and I think that's what terrifies us about the potential impacts".

But despite that, Michael has the potential to become a major hurricane, possibly a Category 3.

"Hurricane Michael is a massive storm that could bring total devastation to parts of our state, especially in the Panhandle", Scott said.

Florida State University announced it was closing for the week on Tuesday, along with schools in Leon County, home to the state capital Tallahassee.

Coastal storm surges of up to 12 feet (3.7 meters) are expected along the panhandle.

The expected path for Hurricane Michael as of October 9, 2018.

Interests along the northeastern and central Gulf Coast areas are advised to monitor the progress of Tropical Storm Michael.

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for. Many gas stations in Tallahassee had run out of fuel, including the Quick "N" Save, which was also stripped clean of bottled water and down to about two dozen bags of ice.

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