STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Hurricane Michael upgraded to Category 4 storm

Hurricane Michael has intensified into an Category 4 storm as it moved toward the Florida Panhandle, where it could blow ashore as the strongest storm to hit the United States this year.

Posted: Oct 11, 2018 1:17 PM
Updated: Oct 11, 2018 1:31 PM

A terrifyingly powerful Category 4 Hurricane Michael was poised to become the strongest hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle in recorded history Wednesday, its rapid strengthening catching some by surprise and leaving anxious officials telling those who didn't evacuate: It's time to hunker down.

"This is the worst storm that our Florida Panhandle has seen in a century," Gov. Rick Scott said. "Hurricane Michael is upon us, and now is the time to seek refuge."

The extremely dangerous Michael is expected to make landfall in the Panhandle, perhaps near Panama City and Laguna Beach, in the afternoon, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.

Live updates on Hurricane Michael

Among the concerns: Flash-flooding with heavy rain; life-threatening storm surges up to 14 feet high; and devastating winds, not just in the Panhandle, but southern Alabama and Georgia.

The storm's center had maximum sustained winds of 145 mph late Wednesday morning, and if the eyewall hits the coast with winds of that speed, it would deliver damage like a strong tornado. "But instead of lasting 30 seconds, it lasts for one hour," Myers said.

"There will be hundreds of thousands, if not millions, without power for a very long time," Myers said.

Track the storm

Key developments

As of 11 a.m. ET, Michael's center had maximum sustained winds of 145 mph, and was about 60 miles south-southwest of Panama City.

• About 3.8 million people were under hurricane warnings in Florida's Panhandle and Big Bend regions, along with parts of southeastern Alabama and southern Georgia. Tropical storm warnings cover 15.9 million people in several states.

• Bridges connecting oceanfront communities to inland areas, such as the Hathaway Bridge linking Panama City Beach to Panama City, were closed Wednesday morning because of deteriorating conditions.

Governor: 'It's too late to get on the road'

Gov. Scott on Monday and Tuesday urged people to get out of the way as Michael strengthened rapidly over the Gulf of Mexico after lashing Central America and western Cuba. Officials issued mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders in at least 22 counties on the Florida Gulf Coast.

On Wednesday morning, he said on Twitter that "the time for evacuating along the coast has come and gone."

"If you chose not to evacuate ... you're not going to be able to get out. This thing is coming now. ... It's too late to get on the road," he told CNN.

Scott extended a state of emergency to 35 counties and activated 2,500 National Guardsmen; he said more than 1,000 search-and-rescue personnel will be deployed once the storm passes.

President Donald Trump approved a pre-landfall emergency declaration to provide federal money and help in Florida.

If it makes landfall as a Category 4, Michael would not only be the strongest hurricane to hit the Panhandle in recorded history, but it also would be the strongest storm in terms of wind speed to make landfall in the country this year.

Only three major hurricanes Category 3 or higher have struck the Panhandle since 1950: Eloise in 1975, Opal in 1995 and Dennis in 2005.

'I'm definitely getting a little bit more scared'

Michael's rapid intensification -- it was a tropical storm in the Gulf on Sunday and a Category 1 hurricane midday Monday -- may have caught some coastal residents by surprise, despite forecasters' warnings of strengthening.

Newlyweds Jessica Ayers and Don Hogg told CNN they and some relatives were staying put in Panama City on Wednesday morning, having decided against leaving because they weren't in an evacuation zone.

Michael's intensification was unwelcome news.

"I'm definitely getting a little bit more scared, I have to say," Ayers said.

They have a generator, so they hope to have power, should regular service stop. They've identified an interior bathroom as a place to take cover if winds get extreme.

Janelle Frost and Tracy Dunn told CNN they were staying put in nearby Panama City Beach. They said they wanted to stay to help those who couldn't afford to leave, such as retirees.

"There's so many people that live around where we're at, and we wanted to make sure they're OK," Frost said. "We made the decision to stay to try and help them."

In Tallahassee, Kaitlyn Mae Christensen Sacco said she was taking refuge in her home. She has a generator and a camp stove, and she parked her car at a nearby church lot bare of any trees that might come down.

"We have our bathroom set up with blankets, a battery-powered fan, water, snacks and the tub set up for our dogs with pee pads," she said.

Even before landfall, Michael was sending ocean water onto the Panhandle's shores. Water was creeping into the southern Wakulla County town of Panacea, a picture from the National Weather Service showed.

In Pensacola Beach, well west of where Michael's eyewall was heading, huge waves were crashing ashore on Wednesday morning, video from Joe Durant showed.

Rain just one of several threats

A hurricane warning was in place from the Alabama-Florida border to the Suwannee River in Florida.

Meanwhile, tropical storm warnings were in effect for parts of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. Storm surge warnings were in place along the Florida and Alabama coasts.

While it's likely to weaken as it moves across the southeastern United States, its heavy rains and flooding effects will spread far and wide.

Up to 12 inches of rain could fall in Florida's Panhandle and Big Bend areas, as well as southeastern Alabama and southern Georgia. Some parts of the Carolinas -- recently deluged by Hurricane Florence -- and southern Virginia could see up to 6 inches, the hurricane center said.

Florence made landfall last month as a Category 1 storm, killing dozens in the Carolinas and Virginia.

But the storm's center and where it makes landfall with its destructive winds represent just one of several concerns.

Life-threatening storm surges could slam the Florida Gulf Coast, with the deadliest of possibly 9 to 14 feet expected near the eyewall and to the east -- perhaps between Tyndall Air Force Base and the Aucilla River.

"That means the water will come miles in shore and could easily be over the roofs of houses," Scott said.

Damaging winds are expected in Florida, southeastern Alabama and southern Georgia. Tornadoes could spawn in the Southeast Wednesday into Thursday, forecasters said.

Georgia and Alabama declare emergencies

Tolls were being suspended in the state's northwest region to ease the evacuation process, and the Florida Highway Patrol is sending nearly 350 state troopers to the Panhandle and Big Bend areas, Scott said.

Six airports in the Florida Panhandle closed in anticipation of the storm's impacts. Tallahassee International Airport, Pensacola International Airport, Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport, Destin Executive Airport, Bob Sikes Airport and Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport each issued statements saying they were closed Wednesday morning.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared an emergency for 92 counties.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statewide state of emergency, saying on Twitter it was "in anticipation of wide-spread power outages, wind damage and debris produced by high winds & heavy rain associated with Hurricane Michael."

Effect of climate change

Michael's strength may reflect the effect of climate change on storms. The planet has warmed significantly over the past several decades, causing changes in the environment.

Human-caused greenhouse gases in the atmosphere create an energy imbalance, with more than 90% of remaining heat trapped by the gases going into the oceans, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association. There's evidence of higher sea surface temperature and atmospheric moisture, experts say.

While we might not get more storms in a warmer climate, a majority of studies show that those that do form will get stronger and produce more rain. Storm surge is worse now than it was 100 years ago, thanks to sea level rise.

According to Climate Central, a scientific research organization, the coming decades are expected to bring hurricanes that intensify more rapidly, should there be no change in the rate of greenhouse gas emissions.

"Rapid intensification" took Michael from a tropical storm with sustained winds of 40 mph at mid-day Sunday to a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 75 mph by mid-day Monday. It experienced a second bout of intensification on Tuesday, going from a 100 mph Category 2 to a dangerous Category 4 storm with 145 mph winds by Wednesday morning.

Get the latest delivered to your inbox: Sign up for Hurricane Michael email alerts here.

West Lafayette
Clear
20° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 24°
Feels Like: °
Kokomo
Clear
21° wxIcon
Hi: 39° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 11°
Rensselaer
Clear
19° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 19°
Fowler
Clear
19° wxIcon
Hi: 43° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 19°
Williamsport
Clear
20° wxIcon
Hi: 44° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: °
Crawfordsville
Clear
19° wxIcon
Hi: 44° Lo: 25°
Feels Like: 19°
Frankfort
Clear
22° wxIcon
Hi: 43° Lo: 24°
Feels Like: 16°
Delphi
Clear
22° wxIcon
Hi: 43° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 14°
Monticello
Clear
22° wxIcon
Hi: 42° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 14°
Logansport
Clear
21° wxIcon
Hi: 39° Lo: 20°
Feels Like: 12°
Mild Conditions Ahead
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 338977

Reported Deaths: 5723
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion46131870
Lake29183469
Allen19572307
Elkhart18074236
St. Joseph17808239
Hamilton14364172
Vanderburgh10546128
Tippecanoe948130
Porter890690
Johnson7132171
Hendricks6820162
Vigo643592
Monroe572452
Madison5506124
Clark547678
Delaware5252104
LaPorte501997
Kosciusko484042
Howard382978
Bartholomew355165
Warrick350073
Wayne345886
Floyd338078
Marshall320446
Cass311531
Grant302550
Hancock294357
Noble274147
Boone267655
Henry266139
Dubois253732
Jackson242034
Dearborn241131
Morgan236543
Gibson207329
Shelby204159
Knox198021
DeKalb193435
Clinton192922
Lawrence191349
Wabash183922
Miami181417
Adams180023
Daviess167545
Fayette159834
Jasper159113
Montgomery158329
Steuben158116
Harrison155824
Ripley155721
LaGrange152232
Whitley149715
Huntington141810
White140323
Decatur140044
Putnam138129
Wells137030
Clay135125
Randolph134022
Jefferson133416
Posey130318
Scott119421
Greene112253
Sullivan106717
Jay106414
Jennings98714
Starke98025
Spencer9268
Fulton90119
Fountain8778
Perry87321
Washington8487
Franklin77027
Carroll75313
Orange73128
Vermillion6927
Owen6699
Parke6466
Tipton64027
Rush6078
Blackford59613
Newton59412
Pike54920
Pulaski45016
Benton3943
Martin3866
Brown3815
Crawford3251
Union3012
Switzerland2735
Warren2663
Ohio2457
Unassigned0267

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events