Hurricane Michael intensified on Tuesday as it barreled toward the Florida coast, becoming a major Category 3 storm capable of "devastating damage" which the state's governor warned could be the worst in decades.
Michael is expected to reach major hurricane status on Wednesday as it approaches a landfall between Apalachicola and Pensacola, with 125 miles per hour winds, the National Hurricane Center said Tuesday in its 11 a.m. update.
"Minimal impact" is a lousy title for an action film but a good prediction for a hurricane, and that's what Storm Team 4 meteorologist Lauryn Ricketts said was coming to the D.C. area.
The most recent October landfalling hurricane in the Florida Panhandle was Hurricane Opal - a Category 3 storm in 1995. He warned that storm surge could affect areas of Florida not in the storm's direct path. A hurricane warning is in effect for the Florida Gulf coast from the border of Florida and Alabama to Suwanee River, Florida.
Michael is forecast to remain a tropical storm as it cuts through Georgia, the Carolinas and southeast Virginia.
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Michael became a major hurricane on Tuesday afternoon as it zipped northward across the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Although the forecast could change, there is no indication that the storm will deteriorate before making landfall. "If it doesn't reach Category 3 but has 110 miles per hour winds, it's still going to be a bad storm". "Residents in these areas should follow all advice given by their local officials", the hurricane center said.
In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statewide state of emergency, saying on Twitter that it was "in anticipation of wide-spread power outages, wind damage and debris produced by high winds & heavy rain associated with #HurricaneMichael".
With just a month to go before Election Day, Florida voters in evacuation zones were given an extra day to register to vote, once offices reopen after the storm. Flooding rains of 10 to 20 centimetres, with hurricane force winds and storm surge of up to 3½ metres are in the forecast for the region.
Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 40 miles from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 195 miles. The NHC has issued numerous hurricane, tropical storm and storm surge warnings for Florida and its neighboring states of Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama.
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In Volusia County, emergency management director Jim Judge said residents are looking at "breezy conditions, some rain and potentially a couple of good gusts through the squalls".
Florida State University announced it was closing for the week on Tuesday, along with schools in Leon County, home to the state capital Tallahassee.
Mandatory evacuations were ordered in coastal and low-lying areas along the Panhandle, including at least four counties and parts of Panama City.
In Alabama, the entire state was under an emergency declaration.
"This rainfall could lead to life-threatening flash floods and mudslides", the NHC warned.
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Michael gained new strength over warm tropical waters amid a forecast that it would swiftly intensify into a major hurricane before striking Florida's northeast Gulf Coast, where frantic coastal residents were boarding up homes and seeking evacuation routes away from the risky storm heading their way.