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10 October 2018, 02:30 | Justin Tyler
Hurricane Michael strengthens to Category 2, on collision course with Florida Gulf Coast
A tropical storm watch is in effect along the southeastern coast of the US from Fernandina Beach, FL, to South Santee River, SC, the Chassahowitzka River to Anna Maria Island in Florida, including Tampa Bay, and the Mississippi-Alabama border to the mouth of the Pearl River.
As of 5 a.m. ET, Michael's center was about 420 miles south of Panama City, Florida and 390 miles south of Apalachicola, Florida. Most of that rainfall should hit Wednesday night and Thursday, and flooding could occur in the already saturated region, said meteorologist Andrew Kimball.
The last major hurricane - Category 3 or above - to hit the Panhandle was Hurricane Dennis, which made landfall near Pensacola in 2005, according to hurricane center data.
Emergency officials in both counties and statewide are closely watching the hurricane. Storms with winds of at least 111 miles per hour are designated as "major" hurricanes.
The storm will track up through Florida and Georgia before moving into North Carolina, bringing 2-5 inches of rain along with the threat of flooding and wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour.
"It's been dry for the last couple of weeks, so there's plenty of places for that to run off to", he said. He repeatedly and forcefully urged state residents to evacuate with an intensity not seen Tuesday.
"There's always a chance the track could shift", said Lord. A shift eastward would not.
"You can not hide from storm surge, so. get out if an evacuation is ordered", he said.
"For those considering evacuation, I can't stress strongly enough the importance of leaving as early as possible", Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said on Facebook.
In Volusia County, emergency management director Jim Judge said residents are looking at "breezy conditions, some rain and potentially a couple of good gusts through the squalls". Winds will increase steadily through the day and could exceed 80 miles per hour. It is forecast by the National Hurricane Center to become a Category 3 storm before coming ashore on Wednesday in either the Panhandle or Big Bend area of the state.
Michael gained new strength over warm tropical waters amid fears it would swiftly intensify into a major hurricane before striking Florida's northeast Gulf Coast, where frantic coastal dwellers are boarding up homes and seeking evacuation routes away from the risky storm heading their way.
Swells generated by Michael are beginning to affect the coasts of the eastern and northern Gulf of Mexico.
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 evacuations. Volusia and Flagler counties were not included in that declaration.
Michael is forecast to produce life-threatening flash flooding from the Panhandle and Big Bend through portions of the Carolinas through Thursday, with 10 inches of rain forecast across parts of the Panhandle.
The storm is expected to reach category three strength before it makes landfall on Wednesday.
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