Tropical Storm Michael could become Category 3 hurricane

But the weather system may not remain a tropical storm much longer: "Michael expected to become a hurricane very soon", read a National Hurricane Center advisory early Monday.

The NHC has issued a tropical storm watch from the Suwannee River to Anna Maria Island, including Tampa Bay.

Hurricane watches have been issued for the Alabama-Florida border, meaning hurricane conditions are expected within the next 48 hours as the storm continues to rapidly intensify.

Michael was lashing western Cuba late Monday morning with heavy rains and strong winds.

Through Wednesday, the zone of greatest concern spans the Florida Panhandle from Pensacola to Apalachicola, including Destin and Panama City Beach, and the Big Bend area to its east.

After hitting Florida, the storm is forecast to move northeast along the Atlantic Coast and batter the Carolinas, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month. Tropical storm conditions are expected across the remainder of the warning areas in Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula later today.Hurricane conditions are possible within the hurricane watch area along the U.S. Gulf Coast by Wednesday, with tropical storm conditions possible by Tuesday night or early Wednesday.

Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in more than 20 counties along the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend on Sunday.

"This storm will be life-threatening and extremely risky", Scott said Sunday after receiving a briefing at the State Emergency Operations Center.

The 75-mph storm could reach major hurricane strength by the time it approaches the northeastern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday night or Wednesday.

Scott activated 500 National Guard troops in advance of the storm.

By 11 a.m. Monday, Michael's top sustained winds were around 120 kph.

Michael is the 13th named storm of the 2018 hurricane season, according to hurricane centre spokesman Dennis Feltgen. A Category 1 hurricane has sustained winds of 74 to 95 miles per hour.

Meanwhile, Scott, the Republican nominee for US Senate, will be leaving the campaign trail for the "next few days" to address storm preparations, a campaign spokesperson told CNN.

The storm has maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour, and slow strengthening is forecast in the next few days. Forecasters warned that the storm could produce up to 30 centimetres of rain in western Cuba, potentially triggering flash floods and mudslides in mountainous areas.

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