'Potentially catastrophic' Hurricane Michael strengthens to Category 2, targets Florida

Katie Ramirez
October 12, 2018

The National Hurricane Center, citing Michael's risky trifecta of storm surge, flash flooding and winds, described the seventh hurricane of the Atlantic season as "life-threatening", and the Florida Division of Emergency Management warned on Twitter of the storm's "rapid intensification" ahead of landfall.

Hurricane Michael has strengthened to a Category 2 storm with winds up to 100 miles per hour as it approaches the Florida Panhandle, the National Hurricane Center announced Tuesday.

"We are catching some hell", said Timothy Thomas, who rode out the storm with his wife in their second-floor apartment in Panama City Beach.

Hurricane Michael reached extremely risky Category 4 status early Wednesday morning. "The time to prepare is now". As a tropical storm, Michael still brings the potential of flash flooding to coastal areas.

A storm surge watch is in effect for the Anclote River to Anna Maria Island, including Tampa Bay, and for the Alabama-Florida border to the Okaloosa-Walton County line.

Forecasters predict winds could top 110mph by Tuesday night as it heads past Cuba and Mexico towards the US.

The Gulf of Mexico produces 17 percent of daily US crude oil output and 5 percent of daily natural gas output, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

As the storm closed in on the USA, it caused havoc in the Caribbean.

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The Florida Disaster website on October 9 said that parts or all of Bay County, Citrus County, Franklin County, Dixie County, Gulf County, Jackson County, Levy County, Okaloosa County, Taylor County, Wakulla County, and Walton County have been issued mandatory evacuation orders.

A hurricane warning is now posted for the Florida Gulf coast from the Alabama/Florida border to Suwanee River, Florida, including Pensacola, Panama City and Tallahassee.

United States emergency organisation The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had scrambled teams ready to act in Florida, said FEMA spokesman Jeff Byard. About 2500 National Guard soldiers were assisting and more than 4,000 troops were on standby.

Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration for Florida. Lines at gasoline stations grew as people left.

It was located roughly 300 miles south-southwest of the mouth of Tampa Bay and traveling north at around 12 mph. Cuban authorities said they evacuated about 400 people from low-lying areas. They're also concerned about flooding rains.

Hurricane Florence - which wreaked havoc when it struck north and SC last month - only reached landfall speeds of 90mph. The last Category 3 to hit the Panhandle was Dennis back in 2005, and the last time the Panama City area was hit by a Category 3 hurricane was 1894.

As of 11 p.m. EDT, Michael was moving north at 12 miles per hour with maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour. But the surging seawater could also create perilous problems far from the coast, raising rivers and bays to unsafe levels as it pushes as much as 10 to 15 miles inland. From there, Michael would move northeastward across the southeastern states on Wednesday night and Thursday. It would head off the Mid-Atlantic coast by Friday, the NHC said.

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