Michael Upgraded To Category 3 'Major' Hurricane As It Approaches Florida Panhandle

Satellite view of hurricane over Atlantic Ocean

Enlarge The center of Hurricane Michael passed near the western tip of Cuba on Monday

Hurricane Michael, which forecasters expect to make landfall around Panama City on Wednesday, has forced mandatory evacuation orders for coastal or low-lying areas for almost a dozen counties as of Tuesday, according to the state emergency website: Bay, Citrus, Dixie, Franklin, Gulf, Jackson, Levy, Okaloosa, Taylor, Wakulla and Walton.

If high winds strike Maryland, the southern and eastern portions of the state are again at the greatest risk.

The approaching storm clouds prompted Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to declare a state of emergency Tuesday for 92 counties in the state, including Muscogee, Chattahoochee, Talbot, Marion, Stewart, Sumter, Taylor, Schley, Quitman and Webster south and east of Columbus.

The declaration, requested by Scott, encompasses 35 counties and "will provide important resources and assistance from the federal government, including personnel, equipment and supplies, as well as making available funding sources for emergency protective measures", according to a news release from Scott's office.

Forecasters said Michael's tropical storm-force winds stretched 370 miles across, with hurricane-strength winds extending up to 35 miles from the center.

The storm is about 270 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola, Florida, and moving north at 12 mph.

"Impacts from Hurricane Michael along the Florida Panhandle will include a unsafe storm surge, flooding rainfall and damaging winds". Most of that rainfall should hit Wednesday night and Thursday, and flooding could occur in the already saturated region, said meteorologist Andrew Kimball.

"You haven't got anywhere to go (if the bridges close)", he said Tuesday morning.

Some feared significant tree damage and power outages in Florida's capital city.

Hurricane Michael continues to intensify and has upgraded to a category 3 storm Tuesday afternoon with the Florida Panhandle in its path.

A satellite image taken at 10:20 a.m. Tuesday showed Michael as it bore down on Cuba.

Although Michael will produce heavy rain showers, the storm's accelerating forward movement should allow those downpours to move through and not over-saturate most areas.

US Rep. Neal Dunn, whose district includes Panama City, urged people under evacuation orders to get out before tropical-storm-force winds arrived.

Even if the storm stays offshore and doesn't directly impact the region, we'll be seeing some soaking rains later this week, partly fueled by Michael. "We wish all our guests who are traveling back home a safe journey".

Winds of that magnitude can inflict substantial damage to roofs and walls of even well-constructed homes, according to the National Weather Service. Wind gusts of 35 miles per hour or more are likely along the coast and could bring down trees and powerlines and rip tarps off homes damaged by Florence, Cooper said. By 8am on Tuesday (1am Wednesday NZT), top winds had reached 155kmh, and it was forecast to strengthen into a "major" Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of more than 179kmh.

"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. As Michael moves inland, southern Georgia and southeast Alabama can expect damaging winds, too.

Those fleeing the hurricane's wrath will be able to seek temporary shelter in Columbus, with the American Red Cross receiving permission from the city to open Shirley Winston Recreation Center, 5025 Steam Mill Road, starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

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