Hurricane Michael is now a Category 3 Major Hurricane pushing 120mph sustained winds and further strengthening is expected tonight as it heads toward the Florida panhandle. The hurricane strengthened more quickly than earlier projections, reaching Category 3 winds by noon.
Michael as of 5 p.m. Eastern time had gusts up to 135mph. The wind field of tropical storm force or higher extends up to 300 miles wide. The center of the current forecast track shows it making an almost direct hit on Panama City, expected to come ashore just east of the city.
“People don’t realize the risk of storm surge they are anticipating storm surge of up to eight to twelve feet feet,” Governor Rick Scott has warned Floridians to heed storm surge warnings.
The state is taking preemptive strides to restore power after the storm passes.
“Across the state we have 13,000 Florida restoration workers ready and they’re already saged for the response and more are being made ready today,” said Governor Rick Scott.
“Additional strengthening of Michael will continue until landfall on Wednesday as westerly shear decreases and warm water temperatures in the Gulf near 84 degrees will fuel the storm,” said meteorologist Cyndee O’Quinn.
“Conditions begin to deteriorate along the panhandle tonight with hurricane force winds by Wednesday morning. Catastrophic storm surges of 8 to 12 feet are expected across part of the Big Bend and Nature Coast,” said O’Quinn.
Landfall is expected early Wednesday afternoon between Apalachicola and Panama City as a Major Hurricane.
Life-threatening storm surges of 8 to 12 feet are expected across the Big Bend of Florida to Cedar Key along the Nature Coast with higher than normal storm surges as far south as Tampa of 2 to 4 feet.
Hurricane Warnings continue from the Alabama – Florida line to Suwannee River with Tropical Storm Warnings from Suwannee River to Chassahowitzka.
Meanwhile evacuations are underway along North Florida’s Gulf coast.
Former FEMA Administrator and Florida Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate said some of the most vulnerable coastal areas of the state are at risk of 12 feet of storm surge, and inland communities are also in danger.
“I think people need to get it in their head. This is not a Hermine,” said Fugate.
“This is a deadly storm with storm surge tonight and tomorrow as the storm gets closer.”
Fugate said compared to hurricanes that have come this way in recent years – Michael is large, strong, and well-organized.