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Tropical Storm Michael Likely To Hit Florida Midweek, Possibly As Hurricane

forecast cone for Tropical Storm Michael shows it hitting Tallahassee on Wednesday.

Floridians from the Emerald Coast to the Nature Coast are urged to review their hurricane plan and be prepared to act on it within a couple of days. Tropical Storm Michael formed over the western Caribbean Sunday morning, and the National Hurricane Center says it could become a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico by Wednesday. Early forecasts then call for it to make landfall somewhere between Mobile, Alabama, and Cedar Key, Florida.

As of midday Sunday, Tropical Storm Michael had maximum winds estimated at 40 mph. Satellite data suggested the depression was producing a significant amount of thunderstorm activity on its eastern side and was drifting north-northwest at 5 mph.

The storm is then expected to move into a more favorable atmospheric environment Tuesday, where “nearly every piece of intensity guidance” brings it to hurricane strength before it reaches land sometime Wednesday or Thursday.

The timing and intensity of Tropical Storm Michael at landfall are more difficult to pin down at this point. The amount of time Michael spends over water could play a large role in how strong it becomes. A faster storm, for example, would have a smaller window of opportunity to strengthen and come up just shy of hurricane status. Conversely, a slower moving system might be able to strengthen into a Category 2 hurricane prior to landfall later in the week.

Forecasts of a developing tropical system are not as reliable as they are after the system matures. The added data from hurricane hunter missions will also help to improve the quality of future forecasts. According to National Hurricane Center statistics over the past five years, the track error for a tropical system in the Atlantic basin at 72 hours falls within 105 nautical miles either side of its center more than 60 percent of time.

The Florida Public Radio Emergency Network will continue to monitor the progress of this system and provide more frequent updates as they become available.

Jeff Huffman is Chief Meteorologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. In addition to his full-time position at the university's radio and television stations, WUFT-FM/TV and WRUF-TV, the latter of which he co-founded, Huffman also provides weather coverage to public radio stations throughout Florida