The Florida Panhandle has been fairly lucky when it comes to hurricanes for the past 13 years. Not since 2005’s Hurricane Dennis has it faced a truly major storm. That streak will likely end in a few hours as Hurricane Michael slams into the coast.
Michael remains a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained wind speeds of 145 mph as of 8 a.m. ET. (It maintained that strength in the 11am update as well.) Forecasters say it could get even stronger before it makes landfall. Should it add another 12 mph to its total, it will become a Category 5 storm, the highest ranking possible for a hurricane.
Category numbers don’t matter, in this case, though. Michael is going to be a monster either way and may be the worst storm to ever hit the area. The storm has a well-formed eye and will bring hurricane force winds 45 miles outside of its center. Tropical storm force winds stretch 185 miles out from the center. In Apalachicola Regional Airport, wind gusts at 8 a.m. were already hitting 56 mph.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center call Michael a “potentially catastrophic” storm and say some areas could see storm surges of up to 14 feet and rainfalls of up to 12 inches. Tornadoes are also a serious threat. Nearly 30 million people are in the storm’s path. And in a briefing Wednesday morning, Florida Governor Rick Scott said those who haven’t left already no longer have the opportunity.
“The time for evacuating along the coast has come and gone,” Scott said in a Tweet. “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. ”
Michael’s Impact Beyond Florida
One forecast model from the University of Michigan estimates the storm will result in 1.4 million people losing power throughout the Southeast.
After hitting Florida today, the storm will move into Georgia, with hurricane force winds still howling early Thursday mornings. Michael is a fast moving storm and will impact South Carolina Thursday afternoon and move into North Carolina Thursday evening. By early Friday morning, it will bring Tropical Storm force winds to Virginia and possibly the Washington D.C. area before heading back out to sea.
Some areas of Florida, including Destin and Apalachicola, are already receiving tropical storm force winds (of 40 mph or more). Florida’s capital Tallahassee will start to feel them later this afternoon
While the Panhandle and big bend of Florida will take the brunt of the storm’s wrath, hurricane conditions will spread to portions of Alabama and Southwest Georgia as well.