Florida calls emergency ahead of expected Hurricane Michael

A man floats in a boat made from a metal tub and fishing floats after the Neuse River went over its banks and flooded his street during Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina. (AFP pic)

MIAMI: Florida Governor Rick Scott said he declared a state of emergency on Sunday in 26 counties across the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend, as the state continues to prepare for a probable hurricane to hit at midweek.

Scott said during a briefing Sunday that the storm could make landfall along the northeast Gulf Coast as a Category 2 hurricane, with winds in excess of 100mph (161kmh) and storm surges even in areas outside of its path.

“This storm will be life threatening and extremely dangerous,’’ Scott said. “Everybody’s got to get ready.”

According to the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center, a tropical depression has strengthened into Tropical Storm Michael and is forecast to become a hurricane Monday night or Tuesday.

The storm was about 130 miles (209km) southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, moving toward the north-northeast at 3mph (5kmh) with maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour (80kmh) as of 5 pm New York time Sunday.

On the current forecast track, the centre of Michael will move over the Yucatan Channel on Monday, then across the eastern Gulf of Mexico late Monday through Tuesday night. From there it will approach the northeastern Gulf coast on Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

It’s common to see big “monsoon-like” systems develop in Central America at this time of year, said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground.

So far the Atlantic has produced 12 named storms this season. They include Florence – the most powerful one so far this year – which caused devastating flooding across North Carolina and South Carolina.

WeatherTiger forecaster Ryan Truchelut told the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper that “we are alarmed, to put it mildly,” by the intensity of the storm.

Skip Foster, another weather watcher, wrote in the newspaper that because the storm developed so quickly, “the models are having a hard time settling on a track, which means a large area of the Gulf Coast is under the gun.”

While the Panhandle region is more sparsely populated than many parts of Florida, it is home to a number of medium-sized metropolitan areas including Pensacola, the state capital of Tallahassee, Fort Walton Beach, and Panama City.

In 2010 the US Census put the population of the entire Panhandle at 1.4 million.

The region is home to a number of military bases including Pensacola Naval Air Station and Eglin Air Force Base.

The area has suffered storm damage in the past, from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Hurricane Dennis in 2005.

In 2010 the Deepwater Horizon oil spill hit Pensacola Beach, hurt the fishing and tourism industries.