Hurricane Michael is close to becoming a major Category 3 storm and still strengthening as it churns towards the Florida Panhandle.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said it could be the most destructive storm to hit the region in decades, and he declared a state of emergency in 35 counties ahead of the hurricane’s arrival. Some coastal counties have ordered evacuations.
As of 11 a.m. ET on Tuesday, the storm had sustained winds of 110 mph with more powerful gusts. Michael threatens to bring a life-threatening storm surge of more than 9 feet to some coastal areas, according to the National Hurricane Center’s latest update.
“If you are in the hurricane warning: PREPARE NOW,” the National Weather Service said on Twitter. “You are quickly running out of time.”
As of 11 a.m. ET on Tuesday, the hurricane was about 360 miles south of Panama City, Florida, moving north across the Gulf at 12 mph. Tropical storm-force winds from the storm are expected to arrive in Florida Tuesday evening, with the storm expected to make landfall on Wednesday.
Certain residents of Bay County and Gulf County are under mandatory evacuation orders.
Hurricane warnings are in effect in Florida from the Alabama border to the Suwannee River. Storm surge warnings are in effect from the Okaloosa/Walton County Line to Anclote River. There are storm surge watches in effect from Anclote River to Anna Maria Island — an area that includes Tampa Bay — and from the Alabama border to the Suwannee River.
Tropical storm warnings are in effect from the Alabama/Florida border to the Mississippi/Alabama border and from Suwanee River to Chassahowitzka, Florida. A tropical storm watch is in effect from Chassahowitzka to Anna Maria Island, Florida (including Tampa Bay); from the Mississippi/Alabama border to the Mouth of the Pearl River; and from Fernandina Beach, Florida, to South Santee River, South Carolina.
Michael killed at least 13 people in Central America after the storm’s torrential downpours caused flash flooding, according to Reuters.
Heavy rainfall from the storm is expected to bring similar downpours and floods to Western Cuba and then to parts of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.
Gov. Scott implored those living in northwestern Florida to keep track of the storm and evacuate if necessary. Residents in that region who are not under mandatory evacuation orders have been told to stock up on enough water, food, and medicine to last three days.
Michael’s storm surge is likely to be the biggest threat to coastal residents. The coastal area from Indian Pass (which is about an hour south of Panama City, Florida) to Cedar Key (about two hours north of Tampa) is expected to see the highest storm surge, with 8 to 12 feet predicted.
In the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend regions, residents could see 4 to 8 inches of rain, with a few areas getting up to a foot. That could lead to life-threatening flash floods, the NHC warned.
After making landfall, the hurricane is predicted to push inland, bringing heavy wind and rain throughout the southeastern US late in the week.