As a strengthening Hurricane Michael tracks toward North Florida for landfall mid-week, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is warning his city could see "significant" power outages and damage in what is increasingly likely to be a powerful Category 3 storm around the Panhandle.
Gillum, who is running as the Democratic nominee for governor, urged residents to begin to prepare immediately for Michael and said it "will be likely worse than Hermine," the 2016 Category 1 storm that was the last hurricane to hit the city and has become a flash point in his campaign in recent days.
Tallahassee could see widespread outages on par with those the region saw two years ago, Gillum said, noting the "significant tree cover in this community." "We'll be able to get folks back up but know that this is not a light storm."
In an advisory released late Monday morning, forecasters said Michael, which is about 50 miles south of Cuba's western tip, is expected to continue intensifying as it moves up into the Gulf of Mexico and could rapidly strengthen and reach Cat 3 strength by Tuesday or Tuesday night.
Michael could start to impact the Tallahassee area as early as Tuesday evening, Gillum told reporters at the county emergency operations center, shortly before the storm was upgraded to hurricane status. The city has begun lining up mutual aid assets for power restoration and the water and sewer system, which collapsed in Hermine and had to be manually pumped after the storm, he added.
"If you are electricity dependent — and we'll reiterate this point later today — we would encourage you to make some decisions around where you ride out the storm," Gillum said.
He added decisions on evacuations were up to county officials, but that "if you are dependent on the electricity for your livelihood… we would obviously recommend that you ride out the storm out of the path of impact."
Gillum was mayor of Tallahassee when Hermine became the first storm in three decades to strike the capital, and was been blamed by Republicans for the city's decision to not accept help from Florida Power and Light utility crews following Hermine in 2016.
Though the facts behind the Hermine dispute are complicated, and the decision not to accept additional help fell to Tallahassee's utilities director rather than Gillum, the mayor was criticized after the storm for the time it took to get electricity back on in the area that affected up to 100,000 customers. The pace of restoration also spawned a spat between Gov. Rick Scott and Gillum, which drew headlines.
Gillum's office said he spoke with Scott about Hurricane Michael on Sunday afternoon to discuss resources the city had on hand, and the mayor said local officials intended to formalize requests for help with generators in the next few days.
Gillum also noted during his press conference Monday that the city and county were working hard to communicate with residents ahead of Michael, but defended Tallahassee's performance after Hermine.
"The analysis on power restoration from Hermine put us squarely on average and above average for similar storms of its size and of its impact," he said, calling some of the criticisms from that time "bit of a low blow attack." "What we're concerned about here obviously is that people stay safe, stay protected and that they make their own individual personal preparation for this storm."