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Michael gaining strength, churning toward Florida

This satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a view of Tropical Storm Michael, lower right, churning as it heads toward the Florida Panhandle, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018, at 6:52 p.m. Eastern Time. (NOAA via AP)

MIAMI (NEWS 1130) – Forecasters say Tropical Storm Michael is becoming an increasingly serious threat to Florida’s Panhandle, though still far off.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the tropical storm was crawling north toward the Yucatan Channel off of Mexico late Sunday night and was expected to unload heavy rains on western Cuba in the coming hours.Dr. Athena Masson, a hurricane expert, says Michael is currently considered a high-end tropical storm.

“We’re expecting it to reach Category 1 either by early [Monday], maybe even [Monday] night,” she says. “But what we’re concerned about right now is just its location and how slow it’s currently moving into the Gulf of Mexico.”

“This time of year, and even all times of the year for the Gulf of Mexico, it’s really known as bath water. Hurricanes need 26.5 degree centigrade water in order to grow and evolve.”

She says the Gulf almost always has these types of prime conditions, which are expected to help fuel the tropical storm over the coming days.

Masson believes Wednesday will be the prime day for activity, when the Florida Panhandle is hit by Michael.

Many areas are still recovering from the impact of Hurricane Florence, which hit this summer. If there’s a silver lining when it comes to Michael, Masson says it might be its duration.

“It’s only moving about two kilometres, maybe three kilometres an hour, but this will pick up speed very, very quickly,” she says. “We’re not looking at a Florence situation at all… Michael, when it does make landfall, it’s going to be a fast storm. It’s not going to stick around like Florence did for days and days.”

While it might strengthen to a Category 2 hurricane upon landfall, she says it’ll likely only last a few hours.
“Probably 12 hours at most before it pushes off inland and then outwards to sea by Friday.”

However, Masson says despite the shorter time frame, Michael will still produce heavy amounts of rain.

“It may not be so along the Florida Panhandle, but from the track that we’re looking at right now, if Michael continues to stay on this track its going to go over Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. It may be quick, however it’s still maintaining all of that moisture in the clouds and therefore so much rain will be dumped onto these areas that have already been affected by Florence.”

She believes this could even mean an increased amount of damage in places like the Carolinas because they’re still recovering.

Meatime, forecasters say Michael could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides in parts of western Cuba, with rains of 3-7 inches expected.

The governor of Florida has issued a state of emergency for dozens of counties in the Panhandle and Big Bend areas.

Masson says at this time, people living in those areas only have about 48 hours to pack up and leave to avoid being hit by Michael.

“That doesn’t seem like a lot of time but in perspective, compared to what we were dealing with back in the 1950s and 60s without satellite technology, maybe they would have 12 to 24 hours preparation time.”

-With files from Toby Kerr