Gov. Rick Scott visited Pasco County on Monday and begged residents to prepare as Hurricane Michael built steam heading toward Florida’s Gulf Coast.

“Hurricane Michael is a massive storm that could bring total devastation to parts of our state, especially the Panhandle,” Scott said. “There’s no excuse, you’ve got to keep your families safe.”

The governor issued the warning after a briefing by Pasco's emergency personnel at the county's emergency operations center, the hotspot for county officials and first responders during and after a storm. Michael, a Category 1 hurricane on Monday, was predicted to strengthen to a Category 3 major hurricane by Wednesday, with winds at least 111 mph.

“We have never seen a storm like this in this part of our state,” he said after the briefing. “Again, Hurricane Michael is forecast to be the most destructive storm to hit the Florida Panhandle in decades.”
Even though the storm is predicted to make landfall Wednesday further north, Scott warned that areas as far south as Tampa Bay could be battered by dangerous storm surge as the storm passes by.

In what appeared to be an off-script moment, Scott described the dynamics of storm surge: It moves in fast and leaves just as quickly, taking with it anything that isn't anchored.

"You can't survive storm surge," he said.

The Tampa Bay area could face 4 to 6 feet of surge, which will be enhanced by high tide. The coastline between Indian Pass and Crystal River could see surges between 8 and 12 feet high, the governor warned. In 2016, Hurricane Hermine, which also targeted the Panhandle, submerged Cedar Key under a 9-foot storm surge.

“If this storm hits near Panama City, the Tampa area will still see life threatening storm surge,” Scott said. “This is a massive storm.”

A Hurricane Watch was issued for the Alabama-Florida border eastward to the Suwannee River. A Tropical Storm Watch covered the area from Suwannee River to Anna Maria Island, which includes Tampa Bay. Storm Surge Watch covered Navarre, in the Panhandle, to Anna Maria Island.

Scott encouraged county officials to make decisions about evacuations and shelters on Monday, as by Tuesday it could be too late to get the word out. He also implored utilities to work out mutual aid agreements before the storm so they're not negotiating the contracts afterward, and so power can be restored as soon as possible.

Last year millions of customers across Florida were without power after Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Keys and then again in Collier County before crawling up the spine of the state. Many families sat in the dark and without air conditioning for more than a week.

Scott said in addition to declaring a state of emergency, he asked President Donald Trump to declare a pre-landfall disaster to free up federal resources. The men saw each other earlier Monday in Orlando at the International Association of Chief of Police's annual convention.

The governor also activated 1,250 National Guardsmen and said he would waive tolls for residents who were evacuating.

Scott has historically hunkered down in the Tallahassee emergency operations center before storms. But he visited Panama City on Monday, then stopped in Orlando with the president, and said he would leave Pasco for Escambia County. Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was at the emergency operations center on Monday. Scott and Gillum criticized each other's leadership after Hermine.

Scott dismissed a question that he was avoiding Gillum this time around.

"This isn't about politics," Scott said, "it's about keeping people safe."