MIAMI – Michael, which is currently bringing strong winds and heavy rainfall to western Cuba, strengthened from a tropical storm to a Category 1 hurricane on Monday, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in its latest bulletin.
The NHC also said in the 11:00 am advisory that Michael is forecast to become a major hurricane (Category 3 or higher) by Tuesday or Tuesday night.
It is expected to pick up some speed on Tuesday and then take aim the following day at the northwestern coast of Florida, the most populated state in the southeastern United States, prompting Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency for 26 counties in that region.
The NHC said Michael was currently packing maximum sustained winds of 120 kilometers (75 miles) per hour with higher gusts.
The hurricane is centered 80 km south of the western tip of Cuba and 220 km east-northeast of the southeastern Mexican island of Cozumel and is moving to the north at a speed of 11 km/h.
The NHC is forecasting that the center of Michael will move northward near the western tip of Cuba on Monday afternoon and into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico by Monday night.
The hurricane is then projected to head northward across the eastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday and Tuesday night and make landfall in northwest Florida (in the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend area) on Wednesday.
At present, a hurricane warning is in effect for the western Cuban province of Pinar del Rio.