Hurricane Michael Gains Strength, Takes Aim at North Florida

FIRST ALERT Michael is now a hurricane expected to be major hurricane at landfall

Panovich: Hurricane Michael will bring heavy rain to the Carolinas

Undergoing a spate of rapid intensification, which is not unusual under these ideal conditions for hurricanes to strengthen, Michael has gone from a 40mph tropical storm on 1pm Sunday to a 120-mph major hurricane as 5pm on Tuesday.

Hurricane Michael became a Category 3 storm with 120 miles per hour maximum sustained winds on October 9.

Hurricane warnings are in effect from the Alabama/Florida state line to the Suwanee River along Florida's Big Bend.

As the Panhandle braces for major Hurricane Michael, Tropical Storm Nadine has formed in the far eastern Atlantic.

Michael is forecast to become a category four hurricane before it reaches the coast of Florida.

A year ago saw a string of catastrophic storms batter the western Atlantic - including Irma, Maria and Hurricane Harvey - causing a record-equaling US$125 billion in damage when it flooded the Houston metropolitan area.

Hurricane Michael is coming.

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Hurricane Michael is closing in on the Florida Panhandle, forecast to make landfall as a "monstrous" Category 3 storm with a risky storm surge of up to 12 feet, officials said.

Tropical-storm-force winds will be felt in the area starting early Wednesday, and mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders already have been issued in at least 16 Florida counties along and near the state's Panhandle and Big Bend coasts. A hurricane warning was in effect for the Alabama-Florida border to the Suwanee River, with a hurricane watch in place from the Alabama-Florida border to the Mississippi-Alabama border.

Data from hurricane hunter aircraft flying through Hurricane Michael show the storm is still strengthening over the Gulf of Mexico.

The NHC said some areas of the Florida coast could expect storm surge of nine to 13 feet, and as much as a foot of rain. There is also little chance that the storm's path will shift majorly east or west, based on the latest models.

"If they decide to stay, there will be a point where we can't get to them", Couch said.

"You could see storm surge 10 to 12 miles inland", said National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham.

Michael's trek to Florida is also affecting politics in the state.

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By Wednesday night and Thursday, the storm will cut through the southeastern United States.

In a Facebook post Monday, the Wakulla County Sheriff's Office said no shelters would be open because Wakulla County shelters were rated safe only for hurricanes with top sustained winds below 111 miles per hour (178 kph).

Life-threatening storm surge is forecast along portions of the Florida Gulf Coast regardless of the storm's exact track or intensity. Forecasters warned that the storm could produce up to a foot (30 centimetres) of rain in western Cuba, potentially triggering flash floods and mudslides in mountainous areas.

Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for 35 counties and said he was seeking a federal disaster declaration from President Donald Trump, who promised full support for Florida's efforts.

Mandatory evacuations were under way in coastal areas, with 1,250 National Guard soldiers aiding the process and more than 4,000 troops placed on standby, according to the governor's office.

Tallahassee City Commissioner Gil Ziffer warned that if the storm hits Florida's capital, there would be significant tree damage and power outages. "Promptly follow evacuation and other instructions from local officials".

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