Tropical Storm Colin gains speed, barrels toward Florida

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Winds Howl as Tropical Storm Colin Pounds Florida

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Colin picked up speed over the Gulf of Mexico on Monday as it headed toward Florida's northwest coast, unleashing thunderstorms and flooding while the state's governor activated the National Guard ahead of its landfall.

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The storm, about 35 miles (56 km) from the Florida coast as of 8 p.m. eastern time, barreled toward land at 23 miles per hour, more quickly than it moved earlier in the day, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

The combination of the storm surge and high tides threatened flooding in coastal areas across the U.S. Southeast, with the storm expected to make landfall below Florida's Panhandle on Monday night.

See images of Tropical Storm Colin:

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Tropical Storm Colin gains speed, barrels toward Florida
Storm clouds from Tropical Storm Colin flank the Orlando Eye ferris wheel on International Drive in Orlando, Fla., as severe weather moves into central Florida on Monday, June 6, 2016. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
VENICE, FL - JUNE 06: People check out the waves from Tropical Storm Colin on June 6, 2016 in Venice, Florida. Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency as Colin brought with it high winds and a threat of serious flooding. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
VENICE, FL - JUNE 06: A young child walks along the beach during Tropical Storm Colin on June 6, 2016 in Venice, Florida. Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency as Colin brought with it high winds and a threat of serious flooding. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
VENICE, FL - JUNE 06: A surfer takes advantage of the waves from Tropical Storm Colin on June 6, 2016 in Venice, Florida. Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency as Colin brought with it high winds and a threat of serious flooding. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Brazilian reporters covering the national soccer team try to stay dry as Tropical Storm Colin bore down on the Florida panhandle during their training session at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, on June 6, 2016. Brazil will face Haiti on June 7th in their second match of the Copa America Centenario. / AFP / Gregg NEWTON (Photo credit should read GREGG NEWTON/AFP/Getty Images)
VENICE, FL - JUNE 06: Casey Superville leans into the high winds from Tropical Storm Colin as he experiences the storm along the beach on June 6, 2016 in Venice, Florida. The Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency with Tropical Storm Colin as it brings high winds and a serious threat of flooding. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
VENICE, FL - JUNE 06: Dan Finton uses his umbrella as he walks along the beach as high winds and waves from Tropical Storm Colin come ashore on June 6, 2016 in Venice, Florida. The Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency with Tropical Storm Colin as it brings high winds and a serious threat of flooding. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FORT MYERS, FL - JUNE 06: People walk along the beach as waves from Tropical Storm Colin crash along the shore on Fort Myers Beach on June 6, 2016 in Fort Myers, Florida. The Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency with Tropical Storm Colin that brings a serious threat of flooding. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A beachgoer gets hit with a large wave associated with winds from tropical storm Colin at Clearwater Beach Monday, June 6, 2016, in Clearwater, Fla. Colin was expected to make landfall somewhere along Florida's gulf coast. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Guests arriving at the Universal Orlando theme park complex are welcomed at CityWalk with the first rain band, at 2:04pm, from Tropical Storm Colin to sweep across Central Florida on June 6, 2016 in Orlando, Fla. Heavy bands of rain were forecast to continue into the evening as the storm pushed northward from the Gulf of Mexico. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
A satellite image shows the Tropical Storm Colin about to make landfall toward Florida's Gulf Coast in this satellite image released by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on June 6, 2016. Courtesy NOAA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
A NASA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) image shows the Tropical Storm Colin over Florida and the U.S. South-East coast in this satellite image released by on June 6, 2016. Courtesy GOES Project Science/NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Tropical Storm Colin is seen over the Gulf of Mexico in this image from the moderate-resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA's Terra satellite taken at 12:20 ET (16:20 GMT) June 6, 2016. NASA/Handout via Reuters FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
A satellite image shows the Tropical Storm Colin about to make landfall toward Florida's Gulf Coast in this satellite image released by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on June 6, 2016. Courtesy NOAA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
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A tropical storm warning was extended to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. On its forecast path, Colin would churn across southeastern Georgia early on Tuesday and later in the day menace the North and South Carolina coasts.

As Colin blasted 50 mile-per-hour winds at Florida, tornado warnings were issued across the state. The storm was forecast to dump as much as 8 inches (20 cm) of rain on parts of the state, the hurricane center said.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, who had declared a state of emergency in 34 of the state's 67 counties, said more than 6,000 Florida National Guard members were activated and ready for deployment. Fast-moving squalls, tornados, flooding and property damage resulting from the fierce winds remained threats into the night, and far beyond the storm's immediate path, forecasters warned.

A statement from Scott's office warned residents to be wary of rip currents and the possibility of 10 foot (3 m) waves along the Gulf Coast.

"It is critical that all Floridians use caution and remain alert," he said in the statement.

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In the St. Petersburg beach town of Gulfport, roads were already flooded. One resident used a kayak to float down a thoroughfare past a waterfront cafe that stayed open, allowing people used to severe weather to witness the storm.

"This is a mild tempest," said Trace Taylor, a local writer lunching on onion rings. "What's there to be afraid of? It's just water and it's not that bad."

More than 20,000 customers were without power ahead of the storm making landfall, local utilities reported.

The storm also threatened crops in Florida, the country's biggest citrus producer, which sent U.S. orange juice futures on Monday to their highest in more than two years.

Colin is part of a brisk start to the Atlantic hurricane season that runs through Nov. 30. Over the U.S. Memorial Day holiday weekend, the Carolinas were lashed by heavy rain and winds from Tropical Storm Bonnie.

(Additional reporting by Harriet McLeod in Charleston, South Carolina and Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Frances Kerry, David Gregorio and Bill Rigby)

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