Pinellas County remains under tropical storm and storm surge watches as Hurricane Michael makes its way through the Gulf of Mexico toward landfall in the Florida Panhandle, as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of up to 145 mph.

In Pasco County, county emergency management officials are urging people who live in areas west of U.S. 19 to evacuate. Pasco remains under a storm surge warning, according to NOAA.

Gov. Rick Scott signed an Emergency Order earlier in the week for 35 counties, including Pinellas to ensure that resources are available when needed. President Donald Trump has approved a Pre-Landfall Emergency Declaration to provide resources and assistance from the federal government.

However, Pinellas County is not likely need to those resources.

Interim Emergency Management Director David Halstead told County commissioners Tuesday morning that the threat to the county from Michael is “very slight,” saying it would be much like going through a “prolonged thunderstorm as it passes by.”

Tropical storm conditions are expected to begin in Pinellas tonight and continue into Wednesday. Storm surge of 2-4 feet is expected after midnight Wednesday through Thursday afternoon and some flooding is possible in coastal areas.

Winds of 15-25 mph with gusts as high as 35 mph are expected, bringing the possibility of downed trees. The rain threat has lessened with National Weather Service now predicting rainfall totals of less than 2 inches.

Pinellas County’s Emergency Operations Center will remain open through the night, he said.

The National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. update reported that Michael’s maximum sustained winds had increased to 120 mph, making it a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale. A Category 3 hurricane has winds between 111-129 mph.

NHC says life-threatening storm surge is likely along portions of the coasts of the Florida Panhandle, Big Bend and Nature Coast. Life-threatening major hurricane winds are expected along the Florida Gulf Coast and well as inland locations of the Panhandle, southern Georgia and southeast Alabama. Flash flooding also is likely.

Michael was located about 295 miles south of Panama City and 270 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola. It was moving north at 12 mph. NHC says Michael should continue to move to the north through the night and then move in a northeastward direction on Wednesday and Thursday.

Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 45 miles from the center and tropical-storm force winds extend outward up to 175 miles.

Hurricane season ends Nov. 30

Hurricane season began June 1 and doesn’t end until Nov. 30. No storms have really threatened Pinellas so far this year. However, officials urge residents to stay prepared. For information about hurricane preparedness, visit www.pinellascounty.org/resident/disasters.htm.

NOAA’s climate experts predicted that 9-13 named storms with winds of 39 mph or greater would form this season with four to seven hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or greater, and as many as two major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or greater.

So far, 13 named storms have formed, including seven hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.

Visit www.nhc.noaa.gov for the latest hurricane news.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.