Hurricane Michael: 'Potentially Catastrophic' Storm Begins Battering Florida
Hurricane Michael roared closer to the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday after intensifying into a Category 4 storm, gaining strength just hours before it was poised to make landfall in the afternoon as the strongest hurricane on record to strike the region. The storm has already begun lashing the Gulf Coast area with tropical-storm conditions, and it threatens to be "potentially catastrophic," according to the National Hurricane Center.
See the latest forecasts here, a city-by-city guide here and the storm's movement here.
9:10 a.m.: Florida governor: "Now is the time to seek refuge"
With Hurricane Michael's outer bands already lashing northwest Florida, Gov. Rick Scott (R) on Wednesday urged anyone in the storm's path to seek shelter before the most damaging weather arrived.
"This is the worst storm that our Florida Panhandle has seen in a century," he said at a news briefing. "Hurricane Michael is upon us and now is the time to seek refuge."
Hurricane Michael had swelled to "an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane" on Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center said, and its wind bands were already scraping across parts of Florida. Forecasters have warned about a potentially devastating storm surge, along with punishing winds and rains that could tear through the region on Wednesday and Thursday.
Scott warned about the "unimaginable devastation" that could spread across the coastal regions, warning residents to take the storm's destructive capabilities seriously.
"It's going to be horrible," he said.
He said more than 3,500 Florida National Guard members had been activated, along with waves of other first responders and officials preparing to respond to both the storm and its aftermath.
Residents and officials alike have said they were surprised by how quickly the storm came together, particularly compared to the much slower approach of recent hurricanes like Irma last year and Florence last month in the Carolinas. "This thing happened fast," Scott said.
— Mark Berman
Just spoke with @POTUSto give him an update on Hurricane Michael. He offered any federal resources necessary as we prepare to respond to this massive and catastrophic storm.
— Rick Scott (@FLGovScott) October 10, 2018
8:55 a.m.: Fears of storm surge, heavy rain and powerful wind
Hurricane Michael's approach continued early Wednesday as it trundled north toward the northwestern Florida, a region largely shut down by evacuation orders, storm warnings and fears of what the system could bring.
The National Hurricane Center warned that the storm could bring a devastating level of storm surge, the swell of water pushed by a system's winds. Hurricane Michael was "an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane" on Wednesday morning, with maximum sustained winds up to nearly 145 mph and some gusts higher, the hurricane center said in a bulletin.
Its strongest winds extended up to 45 miles from the center, and some parts of Florida were already feeling its impact. Apalachicola Regional Airport recorded a wind gust of 56 mph, the center said.
The storm surge could push as high as 14 feet in some areas, the hurricane center said, but even several feet of storm surge could be damaging or devastating to homes and some areas. The hurricane center also warned that the storm's conditions would "spread well inland across portions of the Florida Panhandle, southeastern Alabama and southwestern Georgia later today and tonight," threatening a wide swath of the Southeast.
See the latest forecast over at the Capital Weather Gang.
— Mark Berman
8:45 a.m.: Quiet in Panama City
PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Early Wednesday, Panama City Beach was desolate. The tourists had cut their vacations short. Most hotels had evacuated. The restaurants and shops all across the waterfront community were closed.
But not everyone was gone. Some residents of this popular beach town in northwest Florida, were staying put, ignoring the pleas from officials to evacuate and dismissing the threat of an approaching Category 4 storm. At Buster's Beer & Bait, one of the last bars still open Tuesday night, the locals had one spirited gathering recounting stories from past hurricanes and planning how they would use their boats, kayaks and canoes to help with any search and rescue efforts. They took turns to singing the wood covering the bar's windows already marked with "Rock Me Hurricane 2018."
"Welcome to the Hurricane party," some said when new customers entered the bar. Across the way, the waves grew higher and louder. By morning, rain was steady and winds were picking up. Tyler and Heather Butler said they didn't realize the storm would be serious until Monday, and decided to hunker down at their Georgette Street home, just two miles from the beach. Their neighbors were also staying, they said.
"There won't be any power, no WiFi. We will play board games. We will be able to get time together," said Tyler Butler, 33. "It will be a good lesson for the kids to be appreciative of the things they have — power, water, air conditioning. In a couple of days they will look back and say, 'we made it through.' It will be a bonding time."
— Luz Lazo
Tracking Hurricane Michael
Shades of Opal: Here's how Hurricane Michael compares to the devastating 1995 storm