TAMPA (FOX 13) – Hurricane Michael strengthened to a Category 2 storm by Tuesday morning as continues to move north in the Gulf of Mexico. It is forecasted to make landfall as a strong Category 3 hurricane in the Florida Panhandle by Wednesday.
As of 8 a.m. Tuesday, Michael was reaching 100 mph winds. The storm is expected to stay west of the peninsula, however, Tampa Bay will still experience some gusty winds.
Stronger sustained tropical force winds would be confined to the coast, or just off shore, maybe for Citrus County, if at all, says FOX 13’s meteorologist Dave Osterberg. Otherwise, wind and rain impacts will be minimal for most of the Bay Area.
The biggest threat will be high water along the coast, mainly north of Tampa Bay. It is expected occur from Wednesday to Thursday as coastal winds turn to the southwest. Up to eight inches of storm surge is possible in Citrus County, and up to six inches in Pasco County.
“The only real impact that I think this is going to have is going to be some flooding at the times of high tide,” explained Osterberg. “As you get into the Big Bend area, this is going to be bad for those folks. What you’re going to do is push a whole bunch of water into this whole area which is very vulnerable to storm surge.”
The following watches and warnings are in effect by the National Hurricane Center:
Storm Surge Warning: from Okaloosa/Walton County Line, Florida to the Anclote River, Florida
Storm Surge Watch: Anclote River to Anna Maria Island, including Tampa Bay; Alabama/Florida border to the Okaloosa/Walton County Line
Hurricane Warning: from the Alabama/Florida border to the Suwannee River
Hurricane Watch: from the Alabama/Florida border to the Mississippi/Alabama border; Suwannee River to Chassahowitzka, Florida
Tropical Storm Watch: from Chassahowitzka to Anna Maria Island, including Tampa Bay; Mississippi/Alabama border to the mouth of the Pearl River; Fernandina Beach, Florida to South Santee River, South Carolina
Projections say there is little chance of Hurricane Michael making a hard turn to the right, and into the peninsula. Mandatory evacuations are underway for Citrus County residents living in Zone A, or in mobile homes. Voluntary evacuations begin in Hernando County starting Tuesday at 8 a.m.
On the Florida Panhandle, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan bluntly advised residents who choose to ride out the storm that first responders won’t be able to reach them during or immediately after Michael smashes into the coast.
“If you decide to stay in your home and a tree falls on your house or the storm surge catches you and you’re now calling for help, there’s no one that can respond to help you,” Morgan said at a news conference.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott called Michael a “monstrous hurricane” with a devastating potential from high winds, storm surge and heavy rains. He Scott declared a state of emergency for 35 Florida counties from the Panhandle to Tampa Bay, activated hundreds of Florida National Guard members and waived tolls to encourage those near the coast to evacuate inland.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
Hurricane Michael continues to strengthen and head toward the Panhandle this morning. Storm surge warnings continue from Pasco County to the north, but wind and rain impacts should be minimal. pic.twitter.com/tbnod6LWpQ
— Dave Osterberg Fox13 (@DaveOFox13) October 9, 2018