The 11:30 a.m. advisory on what is forecast to be the largest hurricane on record to impact the panhandle and big bend area of Florida from the National Hurricane Center reports, Hurricane Michael has sustained winds of 150 miles per hour.
At 5 a.m., observation planes were reporting top sustained winds up to nearly 225 kilometres per hour with higher gusts, with tropical-storm force winds extending 295 kilometres from the centre already battering the coast. Forecasters said it will unleash damaging wind and rain all the way into the Carolinas, still recovering from Hurricane Florence's epic flooding.
The hurricane made a direct hit on New Orleans as a Category 3 storm, causing levees and flood walls to fail in dozens of places. Only three major hurricanes have hit the Panama City area and none since 1895, according to McNoldy.
People have been told it is now too late to evacuate and should seek immediate refuge from the powerful storm, which has neared 140mph according to an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter crew. Gulf County in the Panhandle of Florida.
Michael was forecast to have the power to uproot trees, block roads and knock out power for days when it hits Florida. Florida Governor Rick Scott has warned residents to evacuate.
At midday, the hurricane was closing in on the Florida panhandle with potentially catastrophic winds of 233 kilometres per hour, making it the most powerful storm on record to menace the stretch of fishing towns, military bases and spring-break beaches. "You can not hide from storm surge, so get out if an evacuation is ordered".
President Donald Trump told reporters on Tuesday: "We are very well prepared for the incoming hurricane". It's expected to gradually weaken over land.
As a result of the strengthening, the National Weather Service in Tallahassee has issued the regions first ever extreme wind warning effective until 2:15 p.m. EDT.
"Michael saw our worst fears realized, of rapid intensification just before landfall on a part of a coastline that has never experienced a Category 4 hurricane", University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said Wednesday morning.
The storm, which caused a major disruption for oil and gas production in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, had the potential to drive sea water levels as high as 14 feet (4.3 meters) above normal in some areas, the National Hurricane Center said.
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"We have trucks loaded with tons of food, water and other critical supplies, ready to move in", Scott said. Tornadoes could spawn in the Southeast Wednesday into Thursday, forecasters said.
Tropical storm warnings are now in effect in the Carolinas, from South Santee River, S.C., to Surf City, N.C. Much of the Alabama coast is also under warning. This risk will spread northward into parts of Georgia and southern SC this afternoon and tonight.
Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 45 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 175 miles.
Michael is moving north at 10 miles per hour and was located about 225 miles south of Panama City. He focused on islands off the coast whose bridges may close as the storm approaches.
In the small Panhandle city of Apalachicola, Mayor Van Johnson Sr. said the 2,300 residents were frantically preparing for what could be a strike unlike any seen there in decades.
Hurricane Michael's trail of devastation is starting to become apparent. This will be at some point on Wednesday morning (today) Florida time.
Hurricane Michael is forecast to be the largest hurricane on record to impact the Panhandle and Big Bend area of Florida. Duke said Tuesday night, it expected 100,000 to 200,000 customers to lose power. The water is still turned on. "We are expecting a 12-foot storm surge and we were anxious it would inundate the sewer system and when we went to turn it back on, it would have problems", Mayor Van Johnson said.
Her declaration activates the state's emergency operations plan.