Tropical storm and storm surge watches in effect for Pinellas County

At 11 a.m. Monday, Hurricane Michael was about 50 miles south of the western tip of Cuba. Michael is expected to strengthen into a major hurricane by Tuesday night.

National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm watch Monday morning for Pinellas County. A storm surge watch also is in effect.

A tropical storm watch means tropical-storm force winds are possible somewhere within the watch area within the next 48 hours. A storm surge watch means life-threatening inundation, from rising water moving inland from the coastline, is possible somewhere within the area within the next 48 hours.

Hurricane Michael is forecast to strengthen as it moves northward over the Gulf of Mexico, impacting southwest and west central Florida Tuesday-Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

The primary concerns at this time, NWS said, are storm surge flooding, heavy rainfall and tropical storm force winds.

NHC forecasters said Monday morning that Michael would likely become a major hurricane, a Category 3 with winds of 120 mph, and is forecast to do so by Tuesday night and remain a major hurricane when it reaches the northeastern Gulf Coast by mid-week. The latest computer tracks show Michael making landfall along the Florida Panhandle or Big Bend area on Wednesday.

NWS says Pinellas County residents can expect winds to stay below tropical storm force with peak winds forecast to be 15-25 mph with gusts up to 30 mph. However, there is a potential for winds up to 39-57 mph, depending on Michael’s exact forecast track, size and intensity.

NWS also says there is a potential for storm surge of 2-4 feet above ground somewhere within storm surge prone areas, starting Monday evening through Thursday morning. Residents should plan for surge flooding greater than 3 feet above ground and be prepared to evacuate if ordered to do so.

Rainfall amounts of 2-4 inches with locally higher amounts are forecast and localized flooding is possible, especially in flood-prone areas. Tornadoes are not expected at this time.

The city of Tarpon Springs opened sand bag locations Monday morning at the Splash Park parking lot, Live Oak Street at Safford Avenue; at Dodecanese Boulevard at Roosevelt; and a Dorsett Park, E. Harrison Street at S. Lewis Avenue.

At 11 a.m., Michael was located about 50 miles south of the western tip of Cuba and 140 miles east-northeast of Cozumel, Mexico. Maximum sustained winds were 75 mph. Michael was moving north at 7 mph.

For information about hurricane preparedness, visit http://www.pinellascounty.org/resident/disasters.htm.

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