Michael officially a hurricane, tropical storm effects expected in Chatham County

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

(The 11am ET forecast on Monday from the National Hurricane Center calls for 120mph winds for Michael at landfall).

The storm became hurricane status with maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour in forecasters' update Monday morning, triggering warnings of a life-threatening storm surge that could hit the Florida Gulf Coast.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is also the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in the November 6 election, said on Sunday he was cancelling his campaign events and returning to Tallahassee, the state capital, to focus on storm preparations.

The National Hurricane Center reports Michael is forecast to be a unsafe major hurricane when it reaches the Gulf Coast on Wednesday with life-threatening storm surge possible along portions of the state, including Manatee County, which could see up to a four-foot storm surge.

Hurricane Michael, a rapidly developing storm coming out of Central America, is looking more likely to pose a serious threat to the Florida Panhandle, forecasters say.

After crossing the Florida panhandle midweek, Michael is also expected to soak Tennessee and swaths of the Mid-Atlantic, including Virginia and Maryland, later this week. These chances could go up as we get greater confidence in the forecast.

The number of counties under a state of emergency has grown to 36.

According to the hurricane center, one potential impact from a Category 3 hurricane is that "electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes". But within a few hours it gained more strength and by Sunday evening, it had top sustained winds of 95 kph.

Michael became a tropical storm on Sunday with sustained winds of up to 50 miles per hour. Tropical storm winds extended out 175 miles from the storm's center.

An Inland Hurricane Watch has been issued for Baker, Brooks, Calhoun, Colquitt, Decatur, Dougherty, Early, Grady, Holmes, Miller, Mitchell, Thomas, Worth counties in Georgia.

In the Wiregrass, a tropical storm watch has been issued for Dale, Coffee, Early, Geneva, Henry, and Houston while a hurricane watch is in effect for Holmes, Washington, and Jackson Counties and Seminole County, GA.

The system could be "a unsafe, major hurricane" along the northeastern Gulf Coast on Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Heavy rains could cause flash flooding and severe weather, with vivid lightning and gusty winds.

Michael was lashing western Cuba late Monday morning with heavy rains and strong winds.

"If you are electricity dependent, we would encourage you to make some decisions around where you want to ride out this storm", said Gillum. The storm surge watch stretches from Anna Maria Island to Navarre, while the tropical storm watch stretches to the Suwanee River.

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