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Science & Environment

Hurricane Michael Heading Up Gulf Coast Toward Florida Panhandle


OK, mandatory evacuations are now in effect along Florida's panhandle for at least a hundred thousand people living near the coast. Hurricane Michael is now a Category 3 storm with winds of 120 miles per hour. It's expected to make landfall tomorrow in the area between Pensacola and Apalachicola. Now, midway between those cities in Bay County, Sheriff Tommy Ford says he's concerned because he hasn't seen enough people on the roads, heeding the evacuation order.


TOMMY FORD: When we've called for the evacuation of 75 percent of this county, there will come a time when it will be too dangerous to evacuate, where the conditions deteriorate overnight. And you will not be able to evacuate.

CHANG: NPR's Greg Allen is in Tallahassee and joins us now. Hey, Greg.


CHANG: So do people where you are seem to be taking the hurricane seriously enough at this point? Are they adequately preparing?

ALLEN: Well, it's hard to say. You know, here in Tallahassee, it's very calm. You know, we didn't get a lot of advance warning on this. This hurricane just kind of popped up over the weekend.

CHANG: Yeah.

ALLEN: It was a holiday weekend for some people in this government city, so I think a lot of people were slow to pick up on it. Plenty of water and other supplies still available in stores - not big crowds here. Down in Panama City, as we heard - that Bay County area - there is much more concern because that's near where the hurricane may make landfall as a Category 3 - you know, high winds, a massive storm surge. And so there's a lot of concern about getting people out there especially because a major bridge will be closed when the winds get too high.

CHANG: What about the Tallahassee area specifically? What are the concerns there?

ALLEN: Well, you know, you have a couple hundred thousand people who live in Tallahassee. It's the capital of course. And here, the concern really is about the high winds we'll get from a Category 3 storm. You know, we'll get at least hurricane-strength, maybe a strong tropical storm winds. But there are a lot of trees in this town here. And as the trees come down, the power lines come down. And that of course - we lose power. It's a town that there's all these big live oak trees, Spanish moss. It's a very picturesque city. But these big trees have relatively shallow roots.

I ran into a guy named Harold Barber, who was out picking up last-minute hurricane supplies. And he was born and raised in Tallahassee. Here's what he says about the trees.

HAROLD BARBER: I'm a retired firefighter. And there are storms - I've seen - they'll come up by the roots. The whole root come out of the ground. The leaves get heavy, and it gets top-heavy. And then you've got that wind pushing it. Yeah, they will come over.

ALLEN: You know, two years ago, Hermine was a Category 1 hurricane, but that one knocked out power here for some people for a week. So there's a lot of concern.

CHANG: What we're hearing, though, is that officials are most worried about Hurricane Michael's storm surge. How high of a surge are we talking here at this point?

ALLEN: Right. This could be one of those - we haven't had a hurricane like this in quite some time, maybe ever in this part of Florida. And depending on the track, you may see an 8- to 12-foot storm surge, meteorologists say, in the Big Bend area. You know, that's the corner where the peninsula connects to the panhandle in Florida. And there'll be significant surge all along the panhandle going west, that would be. That's the reason that all these coastal counties have had these evacuations. It's the water that actually is the risk to life and limb. And it has to do with the geography here. The continental shelf extends real far out into the Gulf, so it's relatively shallow. And the water just piles up, and that's what we may see here tomorrow.

CHANG: OK. That's NPR's Greg Allen in Tallahassee. Thanks very much, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.