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Hurricane Michael takes aim at Florida Panhandle, prompting evacuations

09 October 2018

"Michael is forecast to be near or at major hurricane strength when it reaches the northeastern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday night and Wednesday", the hurricane center said.

The forecast indicates Michael may be a Category 3 hurricane - with winds from 111 to 129 miles per hour - when it strikes.

The storm was expected to bring up to 12 inches (30 cm) of rain with storm surges up to 12 feet (3.7 meters), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC). Data from an Air Force Reserve reconnaissance aircraft indicate that maximum sustained winds have increased to near 50 miles per hour (85 km/h) with higher gusts.

After hitting Florida, the storm is forecast to move up the East Coast on Wednesday and Thursday and batter the Carolinas, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month.

The storm is aiming at a region that stretches from Mobile, Alabama, through the Florida Panhandle and into the Big Bend area of northern Florida. "This storm will be life-threatening and extremely risky", Scott said, according to ActionNewsJax.

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In Florida, state offices, schools and universities were set to close Tuesday through the end of the week in panhandle counties.

A state of emergency was issued in Alabama on Monday as "dangerous" Hurricane Michael continues to barrel toward the US, with the potential to hit the Florida Panhandle mid-week. "A hurricane watch has been issued from the Alabama/Florida border westward to the Mississippi/Alabama border". A Category 1 hurricane has sustained winds of 74 to 95 miles per hour.

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is also the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in the November 6 election, said on Sunday he was cancelling his campaign events and returning to Tallahassee, the state capital, to focus on storm preparations. From Navarre, westward to the Baldwin County line, a Storm Surge Watch covers that area.

Scott declared a state of emergency for 35 Florida counties from the Panhandle to Tampa Bay, activated hundreds of Florida National Guard members and waived tolls to encourage those near the coast to evacuate inland.

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Mark Wool, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, said the storm will be more damaging than Hurricane Hermine, which hit Tallahassee and other areas of the Big Bend in 2016. "Tropical storm conditions are expected over the northeastern Yucatan Peninsula and the Isle of Youth today", the center said.

Gov. Rick Scott visited Pasco County on Monday and begged residents to prepare as Hurricane Michael built steam heading toward Florida's Gulf Coast.

"Do not take a chance on storm surge", Scott said. As of Monday afternoon, Michael is projected to be the first major hurricane to slam the Panhandle since 2005.

Scott was asked Monday if he was purposely avoiding Gillum by going to the Pasco County Emergency Operations Center, which was outside the forecast path of the storm.

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Hurricane Michael takes aim at Florida Panhandle, prompting evacuations