Fay Could Become Hurricane, Forecasters Say

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Fay Could Become Hurricane, Forecasters SayMIAMI, Florida (CNN) — Tropical Storm Fay moved over the western end of Cuba on Monday morning on its march toward the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Florida Keys, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center said Fay could increase to near hurricane strength by Monday evening when it should reach the Florida Keys, and it could become a hurricane before making landfall on the Florida peninsula sometime Tuesday.

The latest advisory from the NHC noted that Fay’s track shifted more northward in recent hours, as expected.

Traffic out of the Florida Keys was brutal at times on Sunday as officials urged the evacuation of thousands from the path of the storm, a Florida official said.

“Sunday is the day that visitors usually leave this area,” said Key West Mayor Morgan McPherson. “But there are more leaving now, a sign that the evacuation is going well.”

McPherson said as many as 25,000 people could be leaving.

At 5 a.m. ET, the storm, with maximum sustained winds of near 50 mph (80 km/hr) with higher gusts, was heading north-northwest at about 12 mph (19 km/hr), forecasters said.

Fay was centered about 105 miles (170 km) east-southeast of Havana, Cuba and about 155 miles (250 km) south-southeast of Key West, the hurricane center reported.  See Fay’s projected path »

As Fay completes its passage over western Cuba on Monday and re-emerges over warm water, it is expected to gain strength on its approach to Florida, the NHC said.

However, because hurricane movements are erratic, long-range forecasts can vary. The storm will become a Category 1 hurricane if its winds reach 74 mph.  Watch as Fay moves along Cuba »

Cuban authorities on Sunday ordered the evacuation of 5,000 residents from low-lying areas in four provinces, The Associated Press reported. Shelters and food distribution centers were being established, according to the AP report.

Residents of western Cuba, Florida and the Florida Keys should monitor Fay’s progress, the NHC said. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist pre-emptively declared a state of emergency Saturday, and told reporters he had partially activated the state emergency management office. He urged Floridians to ready themselves for the storm.  See how residents are preparing in Florida »

Shell Oil said it was evacuating 360 people from the Gulf of Mexico as Fay approached.

A hurricane watch remains in effect for Cuba from the Havana area eastward to Sancti Spiritus, the hurricane center said.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for the provinces of Cuba from Camaguey westward.

A hurricane watch is also in effect for the Florida Keys from south of Ocean Reef to Key West, including the Dry Tortugas and Florida Bay, and along the Florida Mainland from Card Sound bridge westward to Tarpon Springs. iReport.com: Are you there? Share photos, video
A hurricane watch means that hurricane conditions are possible within the watch area, generally within 36 hours.

A tropical storm warning remains in effect for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.