Hurricane Michael picked up strength Wednesday and is barreling towards the Florida Panhandle as an “extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane.”
The monster storm is expected to make landfall early Wednesday morning. If it maintains its current strength, Michael will be the strongest hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle in recorded history.
The National Hurricane Center upgraded Michael overnight from a Category 3 to Category 4 storm — making it one of the most dangerous weather events to hit the U.S. this year. The agency said sustained wind speeds of up to 140 miles per hour had been recorded, and warned of a life-threatening storm surge of up to 13 feet and heavy rainfall along the northeastern Gulf coast.
As of 7 a.m. ET, tropical storm force winds were reported to be battering the Panhandle coastline, with the storm little more than 100 miles south-south-west of Panama City.
The hurricane is expected to make landfall at 11 a.m. ET.
The National Weather Service in Tallahassee warned residents overnight: “This is as SERIOUS as it gets. #HurricaneMichael has continued to intensify over the Gulf of Mexico. We want everyone to know this is an EXTREMELY dangerous storm and, unfortunately, the time for preparation is ending.”
Some 3.7 million people were under hurricane warnings in the state’s Panhandle and Big Bend regions, as well as parts of southeastern Alabama and southern Georgia. More than eight million people are under tropical storm warnings across four states.
Florida, Georgia and Alabama have all declared states of emergency, but officials and lawmakers are concerned that some residents are ignoring evacuation orders.
The hurricane is expected to churn across Florida Wednesday, heading northeast toward Alabama and Georgia before heading for the Carolinas overnight.
Florida Governor Rick Scott warned early on Wednesday: “THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE to evacuate before conditions start deteriorating within the next few hours.”
A couple of hours later, he added: “The time for evacuating along the coast has come and gone. First responders will not be able to come out in the middle of the storm. If you chose to stay in an evacuation zone, you must SEEK REFUGE IMMEDIATELY.”
Cover image: A satellite image of Hurricane Michael published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.