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Hurricane Michael Could Be Strongest to Hit Panhandle

Hurricane Michael rapidly gained strength Wednesday morning, threatening to become the most intense hurricane on record to strike the Florida Panhandle. The remnants of the storm are expected to bring heavy rain to the Upstate late Wednesday and Thursday.

The storm, now an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane packing 140-mph winds, is predicted to make landfall this afternoon with that same intensity, an event that has never happened in records dating to 1851

As the storm intensified Tuesday evening, forecasters on Twitter described feelings of sickness and dread. “Hurricanes that intensify overnight just before reaching land are the worst nightmare of forecasters and emergency managers,” tweeted Bob Henson, a meteorologist and journalist for Weather Underground.

Both Florida’s Panhandle, from Pensacola to Apalachicola, and its Big Bend area are forecast to be hardest hit. Water levels had already begun to rise Tuesday 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 throughout Wednesday.


Roughly 375,000 people have been ordered to evacuate in Florida as Hurricane Michael continues to intensify in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Population centers that could witness some of the most severe hurricane effects include Fort Walton Beach, Destin, Panama City Beach and Apalachicola.

The surge, or the rise in ocean water above normally dry land along the coast, could reach 9 to 13 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.

Authorities plead with residents, who had not followed evacuations order, to leave.

“Our local offices, emergency management partners and media in Florida are urging people in evacuation zones to move inland IMMEDIATELY,” the Weather Service tweeted late Tuesday night. “#HurricaneMichael is coming and you’re running out of time!”

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.”

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