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Michael expected to become Cat. 3 hurricane, threaten Florida Panhandle

Governor calls storm 'life-threatening and extremely dangerous'

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Hurricane Michael has strengthened dramatically, becoming a hurricane Monday with 90 mph winds as of 11 p.m. Monday and has the makings of a catastrophic event on the northern Florida coast and well inland as well.

This has the potential to be the worst hurricane in the Panhandle and the Big Bend/Nature Coast in memory

Michael has consistently strengthened faster than forecast, which has caused the National Hurricane Center to increase its forecast for landfall intensity. Currently, Michael is forecast to come ashore as a 120 mph -- Category 3 hurricane. We always prepare for a category higher.

Steady strengthening is expected, with the most likely rapid increase in the 24 hours before landfall as atmospheric conditions become a bit more favorable.

The center of the storm is just passing the western tip of Cuba, heading north toward the Florida Panhandle. The hurricane is strengthening and growing in size.  

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has issued an order for a state of emergency for 35 counties to rush preparations in the Panhandle and the Big Bend area, freeing up resources and activating 500 members of the Florida National Guard. Scott says: "This storm will be life-threatening and extremely dangerous."

Scott says Michael is a "monstrous storm" that has the potential to be devastating to the Panhandle. He added that he will also be waiving tolls

Residents of barrier islands, mobile homes and low-lying coastal areas in Gulf, Wakulla and Bay counties were ordered to evacuate by late Monday or early Tuesday.

From Panama City to Tallahassee, drivers are doing their best to dodge the storm ahead of a mandatory evacuation.

But already there are long lines for gas and sandbagging is in full force. Beth Wright was one of many Florida Panhandle residents preparing for Michael.

"I've been busy filling up bottles of water and storing them jut in case I need them and tomorrow morning I’m going to tie down things in my yard," Wright said.

Along the North Florida coastline, the extreme danger will be storm surge. Gulf water will be pushed over the land at extreme depths -- perhaps 10 feet or more -- to the right of where the center comes ashore. It will not be survivable in the affected coastal locations.

Inland, in Tallahassee for example, this storm will be significantly worse than Hermine, if the forecast track and intensity are correct. Falling branches and trees will be a significant danger to people, buildings and cars. Parking your car out in the open where a tree cannot fall on it might save it. Prepare for an extended period without power.

Flooding and tornadoes are also threats in areas to the right of the storm’s track.

Tuesday is the final preparation day in the Panhandle and the Big Bend/Nature Coast of Florida. The weather will be still be good for preparation, though there will be a few showers.

Michael’s outer bands could begin as early as Tuesday evening. In any case, the worst of the storm is expected on Wednesday.

The computer forecast models, and thus the official National Hurricane Center forecast are focusing on the western Florida Panhandle for the landfall point of the center. Bear in mind, however, that the intensity and forward speed of the storm are interlinked with the exact landfall point, so adjustments east or west are still possible. The extreme threat from storm surge will encompass the entire Panhandle and Big Bend/Nature Coast to the east of the landfall point. Gulf water will rise as far away as Tampa Bay.

Hurricane Survival Guide

About the Authors:

Bryan Norcross is currently a hurricane specialist at Local 10 News, the station where he began his stretch on television in Miami in 1983.

Terrell Forney joined Local 10 News in October 2005 as a general assignment reporter. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but a desire to escape the harsh winters of the north brought him to South Florida.