Hurricane Michael strengthens, Florida braces for worst in decades

Panovich: Hurricane Michael will bring heavy rain to the Carolinas

"Hurricane Michael is forecast to be a Category 3 storm when it makes landfall and the impact could be devastating".

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 35 miles (56 kilometers) from the core and tropical-storm-force winds out 175 miles (280 kilometers). Michael could reach Category 3 status before landfall.

"It's kind of got us all on edge right now", Rachel Burke, general manger of Brass Tap Craft Beer Bar on Panama City Beach, said Monday afternoon.

Michael surprised forecasters Monday when an investigating flight found the storm more organized than expected and growing stronger.

The risk of life-threatening storm surge, flooding rains, and unsafe winds are increasing for the northeastern Gulf Coast. A hurricane watch is in effect from the Alabama-Florida border eastward to the Suwanee River, and tropical storm watches have been issued from the Suwanee River to Anna Maria Island and from the Alabama-Florida border to the Mississippi-Alabama border.

"I know people are tired from Florence, but don't let this storm catch you with your guard down", North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said, adding, "A number of homes have rooftop tarps that could be damaged or blown away with this wind".

Governor Rick Scott´s office said mandatory evacuation orders were in place for parts of Bay County, which includes the popular Panama City beach resort, and areas in nearby Gulf and Franklin counties.

The heaviest rain will tend to fall in areas that were missed by Florence and focused from the Florida Panhandle to southwestern and central Georgia to part of central SC.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecast that Michael would become a Category 3 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale before coming ashore on Wednesday midday over the Panhandle or the Big Bend area. It's expected to send life-threatening surges of ocean water into coastal areas along the Gulf, from Pensacola around the coast to Tampa.

"We expect less rain to fall with Michael, when compared to Florence", Kottlowski said.

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Storm surge that could be greater than 6 feet is forecast as far south as Crystal River with more than 9 feet into Apalachicola Bay.

The governor has declared a state of emergency in 35 counties and is stressing that residents should "absolutely" evacuate if ordered to.

"We've practiced this many times".

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared an emergency for 92 counties. Many filled sandbags and boarded up homes and lined up to buy gas and groceries before leaving town.

While the exact track and impacts remain uncertain, Michael does look set to track northeastward towards Atlantic Canada, moving through this neck of the woods late Friday and Saturday, likely a post-tropical system.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a state of emergency in anticipation of widespread power outages, wind damage and debris produced by high winds.

In Alabama, the entire state was under an emergency declaration.

"We're a little nervous", she told ABC News. It is expected to weaken as it moves up into the southeastern United States.

The NHC warned that both could trigger deadly flooding and that residents within the hurricane warning zone should also "prepare for life-threatening winds".

Torrential downpours and flash-flooding over the weekend caused 13 deaths in Central America after Michael formed off the coast of northern Honduras.

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