The National Hurricane Center (NHC) says Hurricane Michael is packing even more punch: It strengthened into a Category 4 storm early Wednesday, with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. According to the NHC’s latest advisory, Michael could produce a life-threatening storm surge as high as 13 feet and dump as much as a foot of rain in some places.
Weather officials say Michael has been drawing energy from warm Gulf of Mexico waters, with ocean temperatures in the mid-80s.
The NHC said Michael should make landfall midday Wednesday in the Florida Panhandle or Florida “Big Bend” area. The storm is then forecast to weaken as it moves through the Southeastern United States.
A Category 4 hurricane has never made landfall on the Florida Panhandle going back as far as meteorologists have kept records.
States of emergency were in effect in Florida, Alabama and Georgia.
The unexpected brute that quickly sprang from a weekend tropical depression rose in days to a catastrophic system. Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Michael could be the most destructive storm to hit the Panhandle in decades. “This storm is dangerous, and if you don’t follow warnings from officials, this storm could kill you,” he said at a news conference.
Florida officials said roughly 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast had been urged or ordered to evacuate.
“We don’t know if it’s going to wipe out our house or not,” Jason McDonald, of Panama City, said as he and his wife drove north into Alabama with their two children, ages 5 and 7. “We want to get them out of the way.” Coastal residents rushed to board up their homes and stock up on bottled water and other supplies.