0137 GMT February 17, 2019
The dangerous Category 4 hurricane has winds up to 145 mph. It would be the first time a Category 4 hurricane strikes the Florida Panhandle since records began in 1851, The Washington Post reported.
As the storm rapidly gained strength, the National Hurricane Center warned its effects would be “potentially catastrophic.”
Both the Florida Panhandle, from Pensacola to Apalachicola, and the Big Bend area are forecast to be hardest hit. Water levels are already rising rapidly and the storm is poised to push ashore a “life-threatening” surge of ocean water that could inundate more than 325 miles of coastline.
The storm also will bring destructive winds and flooding rain and conditions were rapidly deteriorating Wednesday morning as the storm’s outer bands began lashing the Panhandle.
Population centers that could witness some of the most severe hurricane effects include Fort Walton Beach, Destin, Panama City Beach and Apalachicola.
“#Michael will make new history for central Panhandle, Big Bend,” tweeted Rick Knabb, the Weather Channel’s hurricane expert. “Some of you could get water and wind worse than ever before.”
The surge, or the rise in ocean water above normally dry land along the coast, could reach 9 to 14 feet, inundating roads, homes and businesses. The National Weather Service warned many buildings could be completely washed away and that “locations may be uninhabitable for an extended period” after the storm.
As tropical storm conditions swelled over the Florida Peninsula Wednesday morning, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said it was no longer safe to evacuate and advised people to stay put.
Forecasters on Twitter described feelings of sickness and dread as the storm grew ever stronger. “Hurricanes that intensify overnight just before reaching land are the worst nightmare of forecasters and emergency managers,” tweeted Weather Underground’s Bob Henson.
While the most severe hurricane conditions are expected along the coast, devastating hurricane effects are forecast to expand considerable distances inland.
“A potentially catastrophic event is developing,” wrote the National Weather Service forecast office serving Tallahassee and surrounding areas. The office warned of “widespread power outages, downed trees blocking access to roads and endangering individuals, structural damage to homes and businesses, isolated flash flooding and the potential for a few tornadoes.”