Hurricane Michael continues to gain strength in the Gulf of Mexico, prompting officials in Florida to close schools and over 100 counties in a 300 mile stretch along the Gulf Coast to declare emergencies.
The storm, which as of 8 a.m. ET was a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds of 100 mph, continues to gain strength, and forecasters at the National Hurricane Center say they expect it to become a major hurricane. A storm becomes a Category 3 when winds hit 111 mph—and any hurricane that’s a Cat 3 or higher is considered major.
Michael is expected to still hold that major hurricane status when it hits land Wednesday.
Tropical storm force winds are expected along the Florida shore as early as tonight. As a result, Florida State University has cancelled classes through Friday.
Michael is a different type of storm than Hurricane Florence earlier this year, in that it’s a fast moving tropical event. Instead of stalling over an area and inundating it with dozens of inches of rain, this storm will quickly move up the east coast, say forecasters, bringing tropical storm strength winds to the Carolinas and parts of Virginia and Maryland before heading back out to see Friday.
Forecasters warn that wind gusts will be problematic, though, and worry about the potential of tornadoes from the storm. Even with the slowdown that comes with hitting land, the Panhandle should expect gusts of 50-80 mph or more. Officials are particularly worried about storm surge, as well, which could top 12 feet.
“We haven’t seen anything like this in the Panhandle in decades,” Florida Governor Rick Scott told Good Morning America.