Evacuations ordered as Florida braces for Hurricane Michael

Panovich: Hurricane Michael will bring heavy rain to the Carolinas

Panovich: Hurricane Michael will bring heavy rain to the Carolinas

A major hurricane is a Category 5, 4 or 3 hurricane, which has winds of at least 111 miles per hour.

By early Tuesday, Michael's top sustained winds had risen some to 90 miles per hour (144 kph) as it headed north at 12 miles per hour (19 kph). The system has now graduated to Category 2 hurricane status and is expected to reach Category 3 (with winds in excess of 110 mph) when it makes its USA mainland landfall on Wednesday afternoon.

"Michael could be one of the worst hurricanes to ever strike the Florida Big Bend and Florida Panhandle region", warned Weather Channel hurricane expert Rick Knabb. A tropical storm watch has been issued from South Santee River South Carolina to Duck North Carolina, including Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds.

"Hurricane Michael is a monster storm and it keeps getting more unsafe", Florida Governor Rick Scott told a news conference on Tuesday.

Previous year 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.

"I am concerned about the cone of uncertainty as Hurricane Michael is leaning west today", Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Brian Hastings said in a statement Monday.

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.

About 120,000 residents were under mandatory evacuation orders in Bay County in the panhandle, a low-lying area of beachfront resorts and retirement communities. A hurricane warning was posted along more than 300 miles (483 km) of the coast from the Florida-Alabama border south to the Suwannee River.

Tropical storm warnings were issued for the coasts of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

As residents of coastal Florida evacuate, Hurricane Michael is expected to grow more severe before hitting the area as soon as Wednesday.

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"We're looking at a significant storm with significant impact, possibly greater than I've seen in my 59 years of life", Johnson said of the city, straddling the shore of Apalachicola Bay, a Gulf of Mexico inlet that reaps about 90 percent of Florida's oysters.

Hurricane Michael has grown stronger as it moves toward a landfall in the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday, with its maximum sustained winds reaching 110 miles per hour. It also shows additional moisture before the storm arrives. "Don't take a chance", he said. The National Hurricane Center said that Michael's sustained winds have increased to nearly 125mph.

Although Michael will produce heavy rain showers, the storm's accelerating forward movement should allow those downpours to move through and not over-saturate most areas.

Michael wasn't quite done wreaking havoc in the Caribbean on Tuesday (Wednesday NZT).

"Hurricane Michael is a monstrous storm and the forecast keeps getting more unsafe", said Florida Governor Rick Scott, who has activated 2,500 members of the National Guard in response.

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.

Residents of northwest Florida had until early Tuesday to leave their homes ahead of Hurricane Michael, forecast to crash ashore midweek as a major Category 3 storm with "life-threatening" flash flooding possible.

Other locations in the state are under voluntary evacuation.

Some feared significant tree damage and power outages in Florida's capital city.

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