Category 3 ‘major’ hurricane targets Florida Gulf Coast
WTSP Meteorologist Ashley Batey says Hurricane Michael is packing major hurricane strength, a lot of rain and significant storm surge threats.
Hurricane Michael strengthened to a major, Category 3 hurricane Tuesday afternoon as it roared toward Florida’s Gulf Coast, threatening to wreak devastation on a state walloped by Hurricane Irma 13 months ago.
The National Hurricane Center warned that Michael could make landfall Wednesday afternoon near Panama City, 100 miles west of Tallahassee, with torrential rains and sustained winds of up to 120 mph.
“Hurricane Michael is forecast to be the most destructive storm to hit the Florida Panhandle in decades,” Gov. Rick Scott said. “It will be life-threatening and extremely dangerous. You cannot hide from this storm.”
As of 5 p.m. EDT, Michael was moving north at 12 mph about 270 miles south of Apalachicola, Florida.
Scott declared a state of emergency for 35 counties and activated 2,500 National Guard troops. More than 300 state troopers were made available for deployment.
On Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration for Florida.
Tracker: Follow Hurricane Michael’s path
Evacuations were ordered in parts of 10 counties. More than 100,000 people were ordered out of a long swath of low-lying communities, including many in Bay County, home of Panama City.
“We’ve practiced this many times. This is game time,” Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said. “This is the real thing, a significant threat to life and safety.”
Much of the state saw the “real thing” last year, when Hurricane Irma forced more than 6 million evacuations, flooded cities and left millions without power. The repair bill came in at more than $60 billion, ranking Irma among the costliest storms in U.S. history.
Michael could cause erosion at the base of sand dunes along three-fourths of Florida Panhandle beaches, the U.S. Geological Service said. The storm could inundate more than one-fourth of that coast’s dunes, causing flooding behind the protective dune line, said Kara Doran, leader of the USGS Coastal Change Hazards Storm Team.
Scott said the Florida Panhandle, southeast Alabama and southern Georgia will see 4 to 8 inches of rain, and isolated areas could face 12 inches. Storm surge could reach a monstrous 12 feet in some areas – enough to “easily go over the roofs of some houses,” he said.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a state of emergency in anticipation of widespread power outages, wind damage and debris. In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 92 counties.
“I ask all Georgians to join me in praying for the safety of our people and all those in the path of Hurricane Michael,” Deal said.
In North Carolina, still reeling from Hurricane Florence last month, Gov. Roy Cooper warned that Michael could bring moderate storm surge, downed trees and power outages to his sodden state.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said FEMA was prepared in all the states in Michael’s path.
The hurricane center, citing Michael’s dangerous trifecta of storm surge, flash flooding and winds, described the seventh hurricane of the Atlantic season as “life-threatening.” The National Weather Service in Tallahassee called Michael “a potentially catastrophic storm” for Florida’s capital city.
“Folks are ready from the government side, but we need citizens to also be ready,” said Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor in next month’s election. “They are their best first responders.”
A hurricane warning was in effect for the Alabama-Florida border to the Suwannee River, and a hurricane watch was in place from the Alabama-Florida border to the Mississippi-Alabama border.
AccuWeather predicted the storm’s economic impact would approach $15 billion. That’s not as bad as the company’s $60 billion damage estimate from Florence.
AccuWeather chief Joel Myers said Michael is forecast to roll through the region much more quickly than did the lingering Florence, which dumped up to 40 inches of rain in some areas.
“We expect less rain to fall when compared to Florence,” said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dan Kottlowski.
Contributing: Steve Kiggins
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