Hurricane Michael strengthens to Category 2 storm as it barrels toward Fla

Michael strengthens into a hurricane forecast to become Cat 3 by Tuesday

Michael was moving north at 12 miles per hour (19 kph). On average, the Atlantic has about five hurricanes by October 8.

The Columbia area is expected to see winds around 40 miles per hour during the height of the storm Thursday at about noon, according to the National Weather Service.

The NHC expects the center of Hurricane Michael to cross onto the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend Area on Wednesday. Forecasters warned of up to a foot (30 centimeters) of rain in western Cuba, triggering flash floods and mudslides in mountain areas. Michael is forecast to retain at least tropical storm strength as it crosses Georgia and the Carolinas, so Michael's overall wind swath could be broad.

Key among these is the pace that hurricane Michael is moving at, meaning it will not drop the massive amounts of rainfall that the Carolina's experienced with Florence.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

US Rep. Neal Dunn, whose district includes Panama City, urged people under evacuation orders to get out before tropical-storm-force winds arrived.

But some officials were anxious by what they weren't seeing - a rush of evacuees.

She was unsure how well her old, wood-framed apartment block would hold up in the coming storm. "We're just now running out of regular (gas)", worker Danny Hess told CNN affiliate WJHG. "My greatest concern is not having electricity and, living on a fixed income, losing my food".

The National Hurricane Center has enacted hurricane, tropical storm and storm surge warnings for more than 300 miles of the Florida coast.

"Because of the damage caused by Hurricane Florence, and the fact that there's still some standing water in places, we have to be that much more alert about the damage that Hurricane Matthew could do", Cooper said.

The National Weather Service is now warning that Michael is a "potentially catastrophic" weather event, which could result in "the strongest hurricane to landfall" upon Florida's Panhandle in over a decade. The center of Michael is expected to move inland over the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend area on Wednesday.

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"The last thing we need is more water", said Carolyn Causey, business manager of the Trinity United Methodist Church in Conway, South Carolina.

Some of the storm's most significant early impact was to offshore energy production.

Volusia County Beach Safety secured non-essential equipment off of the beach due to the predicted wind and swell, said spokeswoman Captain Tamara Malphurs.

The Gulf accounts for 17 percent of daily US crude oil output and 5 percent of daily gas production, according to government figures. The partial shutdown ahead of Michael helped push oil prices slightly higher on Tuesday. The governor has declared a state of emergency in 35 counties and is stressing that residents should "absolutely" evacuate if ordered to.

Neighbors in Alabama - the entire state is under an emergency declaration - also were bracing.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says numerous teams have been pre-deployed and are ready to respond.

Around 2,000 National Guard members have been put on duty to monitor conditions. Some 17,000 utility restoration workers were also on call.

Florida State University has closed through Friday and the Pensacola International Airport is set to close Wednesday. Lines at gasoline stations grew as people left.

Coastal residents rushed to board up their homes and stock up on bottled water and other supplies.

RMS looked at where hurricane Michael is due to make landfall and found that the most similar storms were Category 2 Kate in 1985, which is estimated to have caused around a $1 billion insurance and reinsurance market loss, or Category 3 Eloise in 1975 which is estimated to have resulted in a $3.6 billion insurance and reinsurance industry loss.

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