Florida Braces For 'Life-Threatening' Hurricane Michael To Hit Panhandle On Wednesday

4 hours ago
Originally published on October 9, 2018 11:13 am

Updated at 11 a.m. ET

Hurricane Michael has rapidly grown into a strong Category 2 storm, with sustained winds hitting 110 mph on Tuesday — just 24 hours after gaining hurricane status, according to the National Hurricane Center. Michael is expected to make landfall along the Gulf Coast on Wednesday as a Category 3 storm.

Hurricane Michael is forecast to be the most destructive storm to hit the Florida Panhandle in decades. It's expected to send life-threatening surges of ocean water into coastal areas along the Gulf, from Pensacola around the coast to Tampa.

The storm's rapid intensification over the past two days, despite shifting winds, "defies traditional logic," according to the hurricane agency. Forecasters predict Michael will bring torrential rains and winds of upwards of 125 mph.

Just before 11 a.m. ET Tuesday, Michael was 335 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola, Fla., moving north at 7 mph with sustained winds of 90 mph.

"Today is the day. We need to be ready for this," NHC Director Ken Graham said in an update Tuesday morning, urging people in the storm's path to finish preparations and evacuate if they're in an emergency area.

The National Hurricane Center has enacted hurricane, tropical storm and storm surge warnings for more than 300 miles of the Florida coast. Coastal counties began issuing evacuation orders and opening emergency shelters at schools on Sunday, as member station WFSU reports.

Wakulla County issued a dire warning, saying it won't open any of its shelters — because they're only safety-rated for storms up to Category 2 strength, WFSU reports.

The hurricane is projecting tropical-storm-force winds outward up to 175 miles.

"The center of Michael will continue to move over the southern Gulf of Mexico this morning, then move across the eastern Gulf of Mexico later today and tonight," the agency said. The storm's center is expected to move inland over the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Ben area before moving northeastward across the southeastern U.S.

Everyone in hurricane and storm surge warning zones should prepare for life-threatening winds, the NHC said. As Michael moves inland, southern Georgia and southeastern Alabama can expect damaging winds, too.

"Hurricane Michael is a monstrous storm," said Florida Gov. Rick Scott, at a Tuesday morning news conference, adding that it could bring "total devastation to parts of our state, especially in the Panhandle."

Referring to the looming arrival of tropical-storm winds, Scott added, "we're now just 12 hours away from seeing impacts."

President Trump has committed to providing any federal resources Florida may need, according to Scott. "As Hurricane Michael nears landfall, we are working with state and local officials in Florida to take all necessary precautions," Trump said Monday. "It looks like another big one."

FEMA is already on the ground in Florida; other federal agencies are also preparing to assist people in the storm's path.

The governor activated 750 National Guardsmen for storm response on Monday, on top of the 500 activated the day before. The Florida National Guard has over 4,000 more Guard members available for deployment, Scott said.

The NHC says some coastal regions can expect 8 to 12 feet of storm surge, as the hurricane's winds drive a wall of water onto the low-lying shore.

Panama City could see a storm surge at depths from 6 to 9 feet. But the surging seawater could also create perilous problems far from the coast, raising rivers to dangerous levels as it pushes as much as 10 to 15 miles inland.

"The storm surge is absolutely deadly. Do not think you can survive it," Scott said. The governor has declared a state of emergency in 35 counties and is stressing that residents should "absolutely" evacuate if ordered to.

"Think about what we've seen before with storms like Hurricane Irma," he said. The storm was implicated in the deaths of 80 Floridians, according to The Associated Press — including residents at a nursing home.

Local authorities are stressing timely evacuation, too.

"Storm surge is the No. 1 problem that you can see from these storms. You have rain, you have wind — but storm surge, that's a lot of water that can come on shore," said David Peaton, the assistant director of emergency management in Levy County in an interview with member station WUFT.

Peaton says he's working closely with the National Weather Service to provide accurate information and protective measures to his county, which faces the Gulf of Mexico and is especially vulnerable to any flooding produced by Michael. The county has already closed its schools through Thursday.

Both Peaton and Scott encourage residents to have at least three days' worth of food and supplies, and check on their neighbors and monitor local news coverage.

The Tallahassee International Airport ‏is operating at full capacity on Tuesday morning — but it warns, "While there have not been any commercial flight cancellations yet, cancellations may be expected as early as [Tuesday] afternoon/evening."

Florida Fish and Wildlife has put 40 additional law enforcement officers on notice to deploy with a variety of special equipment, including boats that could be used for high-water rescues. With a number of counties ordering evacuations, Scott waived highway tolls in the northwest part of the state.

The NHC expects heavy rainfall through Friday. Meteorologists at Weather.com predict that by Wednesday night or Thursday morning, Michael's rains are likely to spread into the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic — potentially bringing more water to areas still recovering from Hurricane Florence. The storm is "unlikely to stall" in the region and spread massive amounts of rain like Florence did.

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