Floridians awoke Monday to the possibility of a major storm fast approaching them.
Hurricane Michael strengthened Monday morning as it moved north through the Gulf of Mexico from western Cuba, the National Hurricane Center stated in an outlook.
State, regional and local officials continue to keep a close watch on the storm as forecasters anticipate it becoming a major hurricane before it’s expected to make landfall Wednesday in the Panhandle.
As of Monday evening, hurricane or tropical storm warnings were in effect from the Alabama-Florida border to Crystal River, National Hurricane Center forecasts showed.
The Panhandle and Big Bend regions may experience 4 to 8 inches of rainfall, and coastal areas from Indian Pass to Cedar Key could face 8 to 12 feet of storm surge, forecasts showed.
Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for 35 Panhandle and Gulf Coast counties, including Citrus, which lies west of Sumter County.
The governor also directed the Florida National Guard to deploy 500 guardsmen to aid in the state’s planning, logistics and disaster response preparation for the storm. About 5,500 more guardsmen are available if needed, he said.
In The Villages and Central Florida, emergency management officials are bracing for the possibility of tropical storm-force winds around 35 to 40 mph.
Emergency management staff in Marion County anticipate about 3 inches of rain from the storm based on local rainfall predictions, Marion County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Paul Bloom said in a statement.
AM-640 WVLG Senior Forecaster Dave Towle urged Villagers to take severe weather precautions.
That includes taking down flags from flagpoles and bringing in objects such as potted plants to prevent loose objects from becoming projectiles that may cause damage during a windstorm.
Towle, of the Village of La Belle, doesn’t think Michael will do as much damage to The Villages as Irma, which last year barreled through the entirety of the state.
But like any hurricane or tropical storm, preparation is key, he said.
“It never hurts to have a little extra food around the house and take the same general precautions as you would a major hurricane,” Towle said. “We do live in Florida.”
Although the storm isn’t expected to make a direct hit in Central Florida, some people may not realize just how far reaching a hurricane’s outer bands may be, Sumter County Emergency Management Director David Casto said.
“A lot of people get under a false sense of security, saying it’s tracking in the Panhandle and we’re going to be out of the woods,” he said. “But the impact could be well away from the center of the storm.”
For instance, Casto saw forecasts for tornadoes tonight going into Wednesday.
“This is not something we can ignore,” he said. “It’s something we take very seriously.”
Bloom encouraged residents in low-lying areas prone to flooding to temporarily relocate to avoid the worst of the potential impacts.
He also cautioned residents that the tri-county area could experience higher vehicle traffic, as he anticipates evacuees from the Panhandle traveling through and refueling vehicles at local gasoline stations.
Michael Salerno is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5369, or firstname.lastname@example.org.