Michael, a storm system on track to hit the Gulf Coast and make its way into Georgia later this week, has officially become a Category 1 hurricane.
Maximum sustained winds have increased to 80 mph and the storm is forecast to strengthen during the next day or so, according to the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center.
“Michael is forecast to become a major hurricane by Tuesday or Tuesday night,” the Hurricane Center said.
Michael is expected to make landfall along the Florida panhandle Wednesday as a Category 3 storm — stronger than Hurricane Florence was when it made landfall, according to the Hurricane Center.
It could lead to storm surge, heavy rainfall and hurricane-force winds along the northeastern Gulf Coast, meteorologists warned.
As of 4 p.m. Monday, it was located 20 miles southwest of the western tip of Cuba.
“If you've got travel plans to the Gulf Coast, and the Florida Panhandle in particular, you might want to rethink those,” Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Brad Nitz said.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for much of the state.
From there, Michael is expected to move into Georgia and bring “windy weather and wet weather” into the region by Wednesday night into Thursday, Channel 2 meteorologist Brian Monahan said. Heavy rainfall is expected in metro Atlanta, accompanied by a dip in temperatures.
According to the latest forecast, Atlanta could see wind gusts of 30 mph and several inches of rain, Nitz said.
“Flooding inland is likely not going to be a big problem in metro Atlanta,” Nitz said.
In Middle Georgia, conditions are expected to be more severe Wednesday and Thursday, with possible maximum wind gusts up to 50 mph and 5 to 7 inches of rainfall near Macon and Dublin.
“The main impacts are really going to be between Middle Georgia around Macon and the Georgia coast,” Channel 2 meteorologist Glenn Burns said.
The Hurricane Center issued hurricane and tropical storm watches for parts of South Georgia as well as Alabama and Florida.
The weather service issued a hurricane warning and tropical storm watch for parts of southwest Georgia, where meteorologists warned of rough winds and a high risk of flooding. Parts of southeast Georgia could also see tropical storm-force conditions, according to the weather service.
Unlike Florence, which inched over the Carolinas and dumped record-breaking rainfall on some areas, Michael is expected to move quickly across the Southeast, meteorologists said.
Michael is also expected to be less destructive to Georgia than Hurricane Irma, which ravaged Georgia, Florida and the Caribbean last year, Nitz said.
Evacuations have been ordered for many communities along the Florida coast, where storm surges could reach catastrophic levels, the weather service warned.
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