A tropical weather system that rapidly strengthened into Hurricane Michael on Monday is likely to intensify ahead of an expected strike on Florida’s Panhandle by midweek, forecasters said.

The director of the National Hurricane Center says Florida’s Big Bend could see up to 11 feet (3.35 meters) of storm surge after Tropical Storm Michael strengthens into a hurricane over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Ken Graham says the storm’s large size, strong winds and heavy rains could produce a lot of flooding, and the shape of this stretch of coastline makes it particularly vulnerable to storm surge.

Since the storm will spend two to three days over the Gulf, which has very warm water temperatures and favorable atmospheric conditions, “there is a real possibility that Michael will strengthen to a major hurricane before landfall,” Robbie Berg, a hurricane specialist at the Miami-based storm forecasting hub, wrote in an advisory.

Water being forced on shore by the storm could get trapped in estuaries and rivers and pushed inland.

According to the forecast, parts of the Tampa Bay area and the western Florida Panhandle also could see up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) of storm surge.

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Midnight

A tropical storm that rapidly formed southwest of Cuba could become a dangerous Category 2 hurricane by the time of an expected midweek landfall on the Gulf Coast in the Florida Panhandle.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has issued an order for a state of emergency for 26 counties to rush preparations in the Florida Panhandle and the Big Bend area, freeing up resources and activating 500 members of the Florida National Guard. Scott says: “This storm will be life-threatening and extremely dangerous.”

Michael became a tropical storm on Sunday with sustained winds of up to 50 mph (85 kph). But it rapidly intensified, and its top winds clocked in at 60 mph (95 kph) by late Sunday evening. The storm is expected to gain hurricane status by Monday night or Tuesday as its core slowly crawls into the Gulf of Mexico, nearing the Florida Panhandle coast around midweek.

Source: The Associated Press