Michael Becomes Extremely Dangerous Category 4 Hurricane

'Potentially catastrophic' Hurricane Michael strengthens to Category 2, targets Florida

The storm on Tuesday strengthened into a Category 2 hurricane with top wind speeds of 110 miles per hour as it continues toward the Florida Panhandle for a Wednesday landfall.

Michael is forecast to increase to a Category 3 hurricane when it smashes into Florida on Wednesday.

As a category three hurricane Michael wreaked havoc in Cuba and Mexico, killing at least 13 people. Michael, which had caught many by surprise with its rapid intensification as it churned north over the Gulf of Mexico, was the most powerful recorded storm ever to hit the Panhandle.

A life-threatening storm surge has been predicted along Florida's Gulf Coast, along with unsafe winds and heavy rainfall.

Wind speeds could increase to around 35-40 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service, and officials would be forced to close the Sunshine Skyway Bridge if maximum sustained winds reach the 40 miles per hour threshold. Forecasters said it will unleash damaging wind and rain all the way into the Carolinas, still recovering from Hurricane Florence's epic flooding.

At 11 p.m. EDT, the eye of Michael was about 220 miles (355 kilometers) south-southwest of Panama City, Florida.

"Today is the day".

Mark Wallheiser via Getty Images People line up for gasoline outside Tallahassee, Florida, on Monday as Hurricane Michael bears down on the northern Gulf coast.

Areas from the Anclote River in Pasco County to the south remained under a Storm Surge Watch and Tropical Storm Watch, while areas to the north were under a Storm Surge Warning.

Still, not everyone is heeding evacuation orders.

Wakulla County issued a dire warning, saying it won't open any of its shelters - because they're safety-rated only for storms up to Category 2 strength, WFSU reports.

On its current track, it would make landfall somewhere along a coastline that includes the cities and towns of Fort Walton Beach, Panama City Beach, Port St. Joe, St. Teresa and the wildlife reserves bordering Apalachee Bay.

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Director Stephen Stewart said: "Even though power cuts are rare, during times of heavy rain and flooding they become more likely". "The public are asked to be careful on all roads due to surface water flooding and in coastal areas, especially at high tide".

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Satellite imagery of Hurricane Michael as it makes landfall at Florida about 1pm local time (6am NZT). "It looks like another big one".

Scott extended a state of emergency to 35 counties and activated 2,500 National Guardsmen. About 2500 National Guard soldiers were assisting and more than 4,000 troops were on standby.

Storm surge, not wind, is what the region should monitor the closest.

Panama City could see a storm surge at depths from 6 to 9 feet. Hurricane conditions are possible within the hurricane watch area by Wednesday. "You know, that's hard", she said, choking back tears.

A top emergency manager expressed concern about storm preparations.

"I am not seeing the level of traffic on the roadways that I would expect when we've called for the evacuation of 75 percent of this county", Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said.

Unlike with the powerful and deadly Hurricane Irma past year that ran up the state, Scott has left evacuation orders to county officials.

"Storm surge is the No. 1 problem that you can see from these storms".

Cooper said the state needs to brace for strong winds and rain.

Panhandle in more than a decade.

Coastal residents rushed to board up their homes and stock up on bottled water and other supplies.

In its discussion, the Hurricane Center said the storm was becoming better organized and would be a major hurricane upon landfall. "Take care of them".

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