Hurricane Michael will make landfall along the Gulf Coast Wednesday as a Category 3 storm, according to the National Hurricane Center. It’s forecast to be the most destructive storm to hit the Florida Panhandle in decades, and it will send life-threatening surges of ocean water into coastal areas along the gulf.
The storm’s steady intensification over the past two days, despite shifting winds, “defies traditional logic” according to the agency. Forecasters predict the storm will bring torrential rains and winds of upwards of 120 mph.
Hurricane Michael was 390 miles south of Panama City, Fl., at 5 a.m. ET this morning, moving north-northwest at 12 mph with sustained winds of 90 mph. The National Hurricane Center has enacted hurricane, tropical storm, and storm surge warnings for more than 300 miles of the Florida coast.
“The center of Michael will continue to move over the southern Gulf of Mexico this morning, then move across the eastern Gulf of Mexico later today and tonight,” said the agency’s 5 a.m. ET update. The storm’s center is expected to move inland over the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Ben area today before moving northeastward across the southeastern U.S. tonight and tomorrow morning.
Everyone in hurricane and storm surge warning zones should prepare for life-threatening winds, the NHC said. As Michael moves inland, southern Georgia and southeast Alabama can expect damaging winds, too.
“Hurricane Michael is a massive storm that could bring total devastation to parts of our state, especially in the Panhandle,” said Florida Gov. Rick Scott in a Monday press conference.
President Trump has committed to providing any federal resources Florida may need, according to Scott. “As Hurricane Michael nears landfall, we are working with state and local officials in Florida to take all necessary precautions,” Trump said on Monday. “It looks like another big one.”
FEMA is already on Floridian ground, providing assistance in the form of the EPA, Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, Health and Human Services and the Army Corps of Engineers.
The governor activated 750 national guardsman for storm response on Monday, on top of the 500 activated the day before. The Florida national guard has over 4,000 more guard members available for deployment, according to Scott.
Florida Fish and Wildlife has put 40 additional law enforcement officers on notice to deploy with a variety of special equipment, including boats. Scott says that as evacuations are ordered, he will waive tolls.
The NHC says some coastal regions can expect 8 to 12 feet of storm surge — a flood or tsunami-like phenomenon of rising water after rainfall.
“The storm surge is absolutely deadly. Do not think you can survive it,” Scott said. The governor has declared a state of emergency in 35 counties, and is stressing that residents should “absolutely” evacuate if ordered to.
“Think about what we’ve seen before with storms like Hurricane Irma,” he said. The storm was implicated in the deaths of 80 Floridians, according to the Associated Press — including residents at a nursing home.
Local authorities are stressing timely evacuation, too.
“Storm surge is the number one problem that you can see from these storms. you have rain, you have wind — but storm surge, that’s a lot of water that can come on shore,” said David Peaton, the Deputy Director of Emergency Management in Levy County in an interview with WUFT.
Peaton says he’s working closely with the National Weather Service to provide accurate information and protective measures to his county, which faces the Gulf of Mexico and is especially vulnerable to any flooding produced by Michael. The county has already closed its schools through Thursday.
Both Peaton and Scott encourage residents to have at least three days’ worth of food and supplies, and check on their neighbors and monitor local news coverage.
The NHC expects heavy rainfall through Friday. Meteorologists at Weather.com predict that by Wednesday night or Thursday morning, Michael’s rains are likely to spread into the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic — potentially bringing more water to areas still recovering from Hurricane Florence. The storm is “unlikely to stall” in the region and spread massive amounts of rain like Florence did.