Hurricane Michael continues its ascent toward the Florida Panhandle, and while the storm is expected to continue intensifying as it passes more than 200 miles off the coast of Tampa Bay, that doesn't mean the region will not feel its effects.
But it is becoming more apparent that the region will avoid the most devastating impact.
Just about 24 hours before Michael is expected to make landfall in the Florida Panhandle as a potentially catastrophic Category 3 storm on Wednesday, storm surge and high tides were causing localized street flooding at various Pinellas beach locations, and officials in Pasco and Hernando counties were urging residents to voluntarily evacuate from flood-prone areas.
Winds from the south will pick up throughout Tuesday, but the real change will begin to occur Tuesday night. That's when dark clouds will begin to roll in, spreading an increased chance of rain throughout the area, according to Tony Hurts, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Ruskin.
"Our biggest weather change will be increased showers," Hurts said. "Probably 1-2 inches of rain in our area."
HURRICANE GUIDE: Emergency information, tracking map and storm resources
By Tuesday morning, Michael had strengthened into a Category 2 storm with 100 mph winds. It was located roughly 300 miles south-southwest of the mouth of Tampa Bay and traveling north at around 12 mph. It is forecast to speed up and strengthen into a possibly catastrophic Category 3 hurricane before making landfall Wednesday evening, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Areas from the Anclote River in Pasco County to the south remained under a Storm Surge Watch and Tropical Storm Watch, while areas to the north were under a Storm Surge Warning.
EXTENDED FORECAST: The 10-day outlook for the Tampa Bay area
Hurts said the majority of the impact across Tampa Bay will be felt on Wednesday. Residents can expect gusty winds, thunderstorms, locally heavy flooding and possible isolated tornadoes for most of the day.
Wind speeds could increase to around 35-40 mph, according to the National Weather Service, and officials would be forced to close the Sunshine Skyway Bridge if maximum sustained winds reach the 40 mph threshold. Hurts said it's still too early to tell if that would be the case.
Storm surge, not wind, is what the region should monitor the closest.
"Our biggest threat is the storm surge of about 2-4 feet," Hurts said. "There may be some increased wind speed, a little breezier than usual, (and) what you would expect from how far we are from the eye of the storm. There is a threat of isolated tornadoes. Right now it doesn’t look like too great a threat, but it is there."
But from the speed of the storm, Hurts said it seems more certain Michael's path won't slip east before it makes landfall.
"It is currently heading 12 mph toward the Panhandle and it's only predicted to increase its speed," Hurts said. He doesn't expect it to run into the area of low pressure that will curb its trajectory east until after it reaches landfall.
By Thursday evening, Michael will have moved inland and most of the storm's effects will have dissipated around Tampa Bay, forecasters said. Friday is expected to have some residual moisture and an increased chance of rain, but by the weekend Tampa Bay should dry out.
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