Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday declared a state of emergency in Northwest Florida as a looming hurricane threatens to hammer the region in the middle of the week.
Scott said during a 6 p.m. news conference that he declared an emergency in 26 counties in the Panhandle and the Big Bend — generally areas surrounding Tallahassee — because of a storm in the Gulf of Mexico that became Tropical Storm Michael on Sunday.
The National Hurricane Center said in a 5 p.m. advisory that its forecast "calls for Michael to become a hurricane in about 36 hours when the storm reaches the southeastern Gulf of Mexico. Additional strengthening is indicated through 72 hours when the storm is forecast to be near the northern Gulf coast."
"Michael is forecast to be a hurricane when it reaches the northeastern Gulf Coast by mid-week, and the risk of dangerous storm surge, rainfall and wind impacts continues to increase," the advisory said. "In addition, Michael is expected to affect portions of the Florida Gulf Coast that are especially vulnerable to storm surge, regardless of the storm's exact track or intensity. Residents in these areas should monitor the progress of this system and follow any advice given by local officials."
Scott said Michael could turn into a Category 2 storm with winds topping 100 mph and could bring damaging storm surge.
"This storm will be life-threatening and extremely dangerous," Scott said.
He urged Floridians to get prepared for the storm and said he has activated 500 members of the Florida National Guard.
"Everybody's got to get ready," Scott said during the news conference at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. "Don't take a chance."
The National Hurricane Center said the storm is predicted to lead to heavy rainfall and flash flooding in parts of western Cuba and the northeastern Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico before moving north in the Gulf.
With Scott running for U.S. Senate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum running for governor, the threat of the storm quickly affected this fall's elections. Gillum's campaign said the Democrat was planning to return to Tallahassee on Sunday to focus on preparing the city for the storm. Gillum had planned to campaign Monday and Tuesday in South Florida.
Gillum's mayoral office said he also "reached out to Governor Scott with an update on the city’s efforts." That came after the two clashed in 2016 about the city's response to Hurricane Hermine.