Airlines Begin Waiving Change Fees Ahead of Hurricane Michael

Courtesy MGN

Courtesy MGN

Michael became a hurricane over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico this morning and is expected to strengthen before striking the Florida Panhandle, perhaps as a risky Category 2 hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center.

A Hurricane Watch is in effect for Alabama-Florida border to Suwannee River Florida.

The storm was centered about 30 miles off the western tip of Cuba, and about 520 miles south of Apalachicola.

As the storm approached, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared an emergency in 26 counties Sunday night including Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

The Tampa, Florida, area isn't expecting a direct hit from Michael, but the city and surrounding areas, especially along the coast, will be seeing some higher-than-normal winds and a fair amount of rain from the outer bands of the storm.

As of 11 a.m. Monday, Hurricane Michael reached winds of 75 miles per hour and is moving through deep, warm water as it approaches the Gulf of Mexico.

"Our goal is to have at least 150 crew members pre-staged in Tallahassee tomorrow in advance of the storm's landfall with the remainder prepared to arrive Thursday", Zubaly said in a prepared statement.

Tropical Storm Michael formed on Sunday in the Caribbean Sea and appears to have designs on the panhandle and big bend regions of Florida, according to early forecast tracks.

Once the storm moves onto land, it will start to slow down and will most likely be significantly weaker than it is now, Steve Pfaff, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, said. Maximum sustained winds are now at 70 miles per hour and additional strengthening is forecast.

Here is the NHC's forecast bubble for the storm ... The National Hurricane Center is telling residents to take this threat seriously and to expect storm surge and heavy rainfall along with unsafe winds.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is the Democratic nominee for governor, had planned to campaign in South Florida on Monday and Tuesday, but he said he would return to Tallahassee to help with storm preparations.

Two major questions have yet to be answered: How far north will Michael track, and when will the storm turn east?

Hurricane watches and storm surge watches have been issued along the Florida Panhandle.

At its current rate of speed, tropical storm force winds should reach the northern Gulf Coast as early as Tuesday evening, after which conditions will steadily deteriorate.

Hurricane Michael forecast to bring widespread misery for the southeastern U.S. in the coming days as it threatens to bear down on Florida.

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

Michael will also carry with it some strong rainfall and is already pouring inches as it heads towards Florida. As of Monday afternoon, Michael is projected to be the first major hurricane to slam the Panhandle since 2005.

Storm surge watches as of Monday morning (left) and five-day rainfall forecast (right).

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