Evacuations as Florida braces for 'monstrous' Hurricane Michael

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The storm is strengthening and expected to hit the Florida Gulf Coast as a risky major hurricane Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in more than 20 counties, and advised Gulf Coast residents to prepare for possible evacuation orders.

"#Michael could produce three life-threatening hazards along portions of the northeastern Gulf Coast: storm surge, heavy rainfall, and hurricane-force winds, with storm surge and hurricane watches in effect", the NHC said on Twitter.

As of 11 p.m. Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center measured maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour, upgrading Michael to a Category 3, nearly Category 4.

Hurricane Michael would be the first major hurricane to hit the panhandle since Hurricane Dennis in 2005, which made landfall near Pensacola, according to hurricane centre data.

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.

That's when Michael will be moving through our area, bringing heavy rain and gusty winds.

The Florida Panhandle is on alert as Tropical Storm Michael works its way to the northern part of the Sunshine State.

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"We haven't seen anything like this in the Panhandle in decades", Scott said at the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center. The primary threat will be tropical storm force winds, which are likely for most of our area.

The landfall location near Mexico Beach, Florida, has not changed much from the previous NHC 5 a.m. advisory.

A hurricane Warning was issued from the Alabama-Florida border eastward to Suwannee River.

There was a storm surge warning in effect from the Okaloosa/Walton county line to the Anclote River in Florida, and a storm surge watch in effect from Ocracoke Inlet, N.C., to Duck, N.C.

Hurricane watches and storm surge watches have been issued along the Florida Panhandle. Tornadoes could spawn in the Southeast Wednesday into Thursday, forecasters said.

The hurricane is expected to make landfall in the United States Wednesday night.

While Michael remained a tropical storm throughout the weekend, the system reached hurricane status on Monday as a Category 1 with nowhere left to go but up.

The sheriff's office says Wakulla County shelters were rated safe only for hurricanes below that threshold. He urged residents to quickly wrap up final storm preparations Monday, calling it a "monstrous storm" with great destructive potential.