MIAMI – Hurricane Michael strengthened on Tuesday to a Category 3 storm on the 5-point Saffir Simpson scale, packing sustained winds of 121 miles (195 kilometers) per hour as it heads north through the Gulf of Mexico toward the Florida coast.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday approved an emergency declaration for Florida as the storm approached.
According to the latest forecast, the storm will make landfall along the state’s northwest coast on Wednesday with sustained winds of some 120 miles (193 kilometers) per hour, heavy rains and the threat of a storm surge as high as 12 feet.
The declaration authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster efforts and allocate federal funds to deal with the situation.
The financial assistance will be placed at the disposal of assorted institutions, both governmental and civil, with the aim of implementing emergency protective measures in the area affected by the storm, the White House said in a statement.
Trump issued the emergency declaration a few hours after posting a pair of Twitter messages regarding the storm.
“Hurricane on its way to the Florida Pan Handle with major elements arriving tomorrow. Could also hit, in later stage, parts of Georgia, and unfortunately North Carolina, and South Carolina, again,” said the president.
“Looks to be a Cat. 3 which is even more intense than Florence. Good news is, the folks in the Pan Handle can take care of anything. @FEMA and First Responders are ready – be prepared!” added Trump.
The storm entered the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday and is moving northwards with maximum sustained winds of 100 miles (155 kilometers) per hour, the US National Hurricane Center reported.
Michael, which has rapidly increased in strength over the past 24 hours, is still about 335 miles from Florida’s western coast, where it is expected to make landfall on Wednesday somewhere in the northwestern part of the state as a major hurricane.
According to the most recent bulletin issued by the Miami-based NHC, Michael is currently a Category 2 storm (on the 5-point Saffir Simpson scale) and is located in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
It is moving northwards at about 12 mph, the same steady speed it has had since Monday night.
The NHC cancelled a tropical storm warning for the Cuban province of Pinar del Rio, in the extreme western portion of the island, where the last wind gusts from Michael are still being felt.
However, storm watches and warnings of various categories are still in place for the entire western coast of Florida, and for the coastal areas of Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina.
The projected trajectory of the storm is for Michael’s eye to move into the northeastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday and on Wednesday to make landfall in the Florida Panhandle or at the so-called “Big Bend,” where the Florida peninsula’s western coastline turns westward.
Then, Michael is projected to move northeast across the southeastern US into South Carolina.
Before it makes landfall, however, the storm’s winds are expected to increase, the NHC said, noting that the main dangers from Michael are a heavy storm surge and coastal flooding of up to 12 feet (3.66 meters), along with heavy winds and intense rain.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced on Monday that public offices in 35 counties where an emergency was declared will remain closed from Tuesday through Thursday.