By MIKE SCHNEIDER
The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - A tropical storm that rapidly formed southwest of Cuba could become a dangerous Category 2 hurricane by the time of an expected midweek landfall on the Gulf Coast in the Florida Panhandle.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has issued an order for a state of emergency for 26 counties to rush preparations in the Florida Panhandle and the Big Bend area, freeing up resources and activating 500 members of the Florida National Guard. Scott says: "This storm will be life-threatening and extremely dangerous."

Michael became a tropical storm on Sunday with sustained winds of up to 50 mph (85 kph). But it rapidly intensified, and its top winds clocked in at 60 mph (95 kph) by late Sunday evening. The storm is expected to gain hurricane status by Monday night or Tuesday as its core slowly crawls into the Gulf of Mexico, nearing the Florida Panhandle coast around midweek.

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