Tropical Storm Michael Strengthening in Northwestern Caribbean Sea, Could Threaten Northeastern Gulf Coast as a Hurricane Midweek

Tropical Storm Michael is strengthening in the northwestern Caribbean Sea and could threaten the northeastern Gulf Coast as a Category 1 or 2 hurricane by midweek with dangerous storm surge, damaging winds, and heavy rainfall.

Michael is currently centered about 105 miles east-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, moving slowly toward the north.

Tropical storm warnings have been posted for western Cuba and Mexico's northeastern Yucatan Peninsula, including Cancun. Tropical-storm-force winds (39-plus mph) are expected to first reach the tropical storm warning area by early Monday morning, making outside preparations difficult or dangerous. 

Hurricane watches will likely be issued for portions of the northeastern Gulf Coast of the United States on Monday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Rainfall totals of 3 to 7 inches are forecast over western Cuba, with 2 to 4 inches over the Yucatan Peninsula and Belize through Tuesday. Isolated maximum amounts of 12 inches are possible in western Cuba.

These downpours could contribute to life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides, particularly in areas of mountainous terrain.

Michael's outer rainbands are also expected to produce 2 to 4 inches of rain across the Florida Keys through Tuesday.

Forecast guidance is unanimous that Michael will be drawn northward through the Gulf of Mexico and pose a threat to the northeastern Gulf Coast by midweek.

Upper-level winds are expected to become more favorable for intensification in the Gulf of Mexico than they are right now, and sea-surface temperatures are above average along Michael's path as well. Both of these factors should assist in a gradual strengthening of Michael into a hurricane by Monday night or Tuesday.
It's too early to determine the exact magnitude of the impacts from this system, but here's a general overview of what we know right now.
- Timing: Landfall is most likely to occur somewhere between the Florida Panhandle and the Big Bend of Florida Wednesday into Wednesday night. Depending on how quickly or slowly this system moves northward, the center of Michael could approach the Florida Gulf Coast as soon as Tuesday night or as late as Thursday morning. After landfall, this system will then move farther inland across the southeastern U.S. into late-week.
- Intensity: The National Hurricane Center is forecasting this system to be a Category 1 or 2 hurricane when it makes landfall. However, the intensity forecast is uncertain, and Michael could be weaker or stronger than that at landfall.
- Wind: Tropical-storm-force winds (39-plus mph) are most likely to arrive on the northeastern Gulf Coast Wednesday morning, particularly from southern Alabama to the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend. Winds of that strength could arrive as soon as Tuesday evening, however, depending on how fast Michael moves. Hurricane-force winds (74-plus mph) are possible in a smaller area near where the center moves inland. Tree damage and power outages are possible along the path of Michael near and inland from the northeastern Gulf Coast.
- Storm Surge: Dangerous storm surge flooding could occur along the immediate coastline near and east of where the center makes landfall. The amount of storm surge inundation will depend on how strong this system becomes and where it makes landfall. Michael is expected to affect portions of the Florida Gulf coast that are especially vulnerable to storm surge, particularly Apalachee Bay south of Tallahassee.
- Rainfall: Heavy rain is likely to spread inland from the northeastern and central Gulf Coast midweek to other parts of the southeastern U.S. into late-week. Some of this heavy rain could affect parts of the Carolinas that were devastated by flooding from Hurricane Florence. That said, this system is unlikely to stall like Florence did and will, therefore, not bring extreme rainfall amounts.

Interests along the northeastern and central Gulf Coast that are in the path of this system should begin making preparations.


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