The storm could strengthen into a hurricane by Monday night or Tuesday as its center moves over the Yucatan Channel, crosses the Gulf of Mexico and nears the Florida Panhandle coast sometime Wednesday. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads.
The storm is expected to unleash coastal storm surges of up to 12 feet (3.7 meters) along Florida's Panhandle and dump as much as a foot (30 cm) of rain across Florida, Georgia and SC, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported.
A major hurricane is a Category 5, 4 or 3 hurricane, which has winds of at least 111 miles per hour.
Hurricane Michael would be the first major hurricane to hit the panhandle since Hurricane Dennis in 2005, which made landfall near Pensacola, according to hurricane centre data.
An area of disturbed weather near Honduras has a good chance of becoming a tropical depression in the central Gulf of Mexico by Sunday or Monday, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said.
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On Monday at 5 a.m., the National Hurricane Center issued the Tropical Storm Watch from the Suwannee River to Anna Maria Island, including Tampa Bay.
The storm will be moving at a steady clip, so it is unlikely to produce the type of extreme rainfall that Hurricane Florence did.
Michael, moving toward the US Gulf Coast, is now a Category 1 hurricane, the National Hurricane Center said. On average, the Atlantic would have about five hurricanes by October 8.
The governor warned that there is potential for "devastating impact to communities across the Panhandle and Big Bend". "We're going to get storm surge, we have wind, we have a chance of flooding, we have a significant chance of tornadoes". The forecast cone at this point has shifted to cover the entire Florida Panhandle and not much else.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey declared a statewide emergency on Monday ahead of the storm.
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A tropical storm warning is in effect for the Cuban provinces of Pinar del Rio and the Isle of Youth and the eastern coast of Mexico from Tulum to Cabo Catoche, including Cozumel. Hurricane conditions are expected within the next 12 hours, according to the NHC.
Michael could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides in parts of western Cuba, forecasts say, with rains of 3-7 inches (7-17 centimeters) expected.
Wind shear, which has slowed the storm's development so far, is forecast to relax, which should also enable the storm to gain strength.
Due to the King Tides - exceptionally high tides - along both coasts, coastal flooding also could be a concern.
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