Hurricane Michael strengthens, Florida panhandle braces

Howard TerryOct 10, 2018

The National Hurricane Center warned that Michael could make landfall Wednesday afternoon near Panama City, 100 miles west of Tallahassee, as a Category 3 storm with torrential rains and sustained winds of up to 120 mph.

The risk of life-threatening storm surge, heavy rainfall, and risky winds are increasing for the northeastern Gulf Coast.

Rainfall of four to eight inches, and as much as a foot in isolated areas, "could lead to life-threatening flash floods", according to the NHC, which also warned that the storm's approach could spawn tornados in north-western Florida.

A storm surge up to 12 feet is possible along portions of Florida's Gulf Coast from Steinhatchee to Apalachicola Bay.

"We expect less rain to fall when compared to Florence", said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dan Kottlowski.

A hurricane warning was in effect for the coastline from the Florida-Alabama border to the Suwannee River in Florida.

Authorities stressed the danger of the storm surge, when hurricanes push sea water high above their normal levels causing coastal flooding.

After striking Florida, Michael is forecast to move up the East Coast on Wednesday and Thursday ploughing through the Carolinas, still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month.

Three Florida Panhandle counties have issued mandatory evacuation orders ahead of Hurricane Michael's expected landfall.

Michael is expected to reach major hurricane status on Wednesday as it approaches a landfall between Apalachicola and Pensacola, with 125 miles per hour winds, the National Hurricane Center said Tuesday in its 11 a.m. update.

Devastating hurricane effects are expected to expand inland far beyond the coast.

Michael underwent a period of "rapid intensification" from mid-day Sunday to mid-day Monday, growing from a tropical storm with sustained winds of 40 miles per hour to a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 75 miles per hour.

Some 1,250 National Guard soldiers are helping residents in coastal areas to find safety, and another 4,000 are on standby, Mr Scott said.

The storm will track up through Florida and Georgia before moving into North Carolina, bringing 2-5 inches of rain along with the threat of flooding and wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour.

"We don't know if it's going to wipe out our house or not", Jason McDonald, of Panama City, said as he and his wife drove north into Alabama with their two children, ages 5 and 7.

"If you don't follow warnings from officials this storm could kill you", said the Republican governor, who is campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat in the November congressional elections.

Hurricane Michael will influence South Florida's weather for the rest of the week, but the effects are not expected to be significant, forecasters say.

The hurricane is expected to be the most powerful storm to strike the southern USA state's panhandle in at least a decade.

Lines have formed at petrol stations and people have been stocking up on emergency food supplies. By Friday (Oct. 12), the storm will make its way out over the northern Atlantic, NOAA is now predicting.

In addition to several low-lying areas in the Panhandle, states of emergency have been declared for 92 counties across Georgia, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a state of emergency in anticipation of widespread power outages, wind damage and debris produced by high winds.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Florida's Democratic nominee for governor, filled sandbags with residents and urged the state capital's residents to finish emergency preparations quickly.

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