Hurricane Michael, which forecasters expect to make landfall around Panama City Wednesday, has forced mandatory evacuation orders for coastal or low-lying areas for almost a dozen counties as of Tuesday, according to the state emergency web site: Bay, Citrus, Dixie, Franklin, Gulf, Jackson, Levy, Okaloosa, Taylor, Wakulla and Walton.
In its 8 a.m. ET report Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center reported the Category 2 storm with winds of 100 mph was 395 miles south of Panama City, FL.
Parts of Florida could begin feeling tropical storm conditions as early as tonight as Hurricane Michael churns across the Gulf of Mexico Tuesday, headed for a Wednesday landfall along the northeastern Gulf Coast.
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.
"We're looking at a significant storm with significant impact, possibly greater than I've seen in my 59 years of life", he said of the city, which sits on the shore of Apalachicola Bay, an inlet to the Gulf of Mexico famed for producing about 90 per cent of Florida's oysters.
"You haven't got anywhere to go (if the bridges close)", he said Tuesday morning.
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Hurricane Warnings are in effect from the Alabama-Florida border to the Suwannee River, and a Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for Florida's west coast from the Suwannee River to Chassahowitzka.
Florida has had more hurricanes in October than in any other month.
Michael was a Category 1 hurricane but could make landfall as a Category 3, and forecasters warned it could send down 10 to 30 centimetres of rain.
Hurricane Michael will nearly certainly bring more rain to areas already hard-hit by flooding from Hurricane Florence last month.
As of 5 a.m. ET on October 9, Michael's center was about 420 miles south of Panama City, Florida and 390 miles south of Apalachicola, Florida. "Residents and businesses in coastal Alabama must be vigilant and closely monitor the storm's path and be prepared for a major hurricane". He said tolls were being suspended in the state's northwest region to ease the evacuation process, and the Florida Highway Patrol is sending almost 350 state troopers to the Panhandle and Big Bend areas.
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NWS forecasters also warned of a high rip current risk along the Grand Strand Tuesday.
"We don't know if it's going to wipe out our house or not", Jason McDonald, of Panama City, said as he and his wife drove north into Alabama with their two children, ages 5 and 7. "Take care of them", he said. The storm could inundate more than one-fourth of that coast's dunes, causing flooding behind the protective dune line, said Kara Doran, leader of the USGS Coastal Change Hazards Storm Team.
In addition to several low-lying areas in the Panhandle, states of emergency have been declared for 92 counties across Georgia, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed an emergency declaration for her entire state, expecting widespread power outages and other problems from Michael.
Michael looks likely to provide extra moisture to an incoming fall system late this week.
Forecasters say some regions may see 12in (30cm) of rain, and storm surges of up to 12ft (3.6m).
Tallahassee´s Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is campaigning to succeed Scott as governor in next month´s elections, suspended his campaign and returned to the state capital to oversee storm preparations.
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