Hurricane Michael is forecast to strike the Florida Panhandle at least at Category 3 intensity driving life-threatening storm surge flooding, destructive winds and flooding rainfall. Michael will also spread heavy rain and strong winds to other parts of the southeastern United States after it moves inland.
"Michael could develop into a potentially catastrophic event for the northeastern Gulf Coast," the National Weather Service office in Tallahassee, Florida, wrote in its area forecast discussion Monday afternoon. Michael could be the strongest hurricane to landfall along the stretch of Florida's Panhandle Gulf Coast in 13 years.
The latest maps from the NHC show the storm hitting small parts of Florida at around 8am on Wednesday, which could bring up to a foot of rain with life-threatening flash flooding.
A storm surge warning is in effect from the Okaloosa/Walton County line in Florida to Anclote River, Florida. This means life-threatening storm surge inundation is a danger in the warning area, in this case within about 24 hours.
Storm surge watches are in effect from Anclote River, Florida, to Anna Maria Island, Florida, including Tampa Bay, and from the Alabama/Florida border to the Okaloosa/Walton County line in Florida. This means life-threatening storm surge inundation is possible in the watch area.
Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in more than 20 counties along the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend.
He advised Gulf Coast residents to prepare for possible evacuation orders, and he has put more than 5,000 National Guard soldiers on alert.
Mr Scott wrote on Twitter: ”Families should take the opportunity today to make sure they have three days of food and water, as well as all needed medications.
“Every family must be prepared. We can rebuild your home, but we cannot rebuild your life."
Hurricane Michael is forecast to barrel its way through the states of Alabama and Georgia and parts of Mississippi and Tennessee during the same day.
It will then arrive in in South and North Carolina on Friday, as well as Virginia, before hitting Delaware and Missouri later that evening.
The map from the NHC shows Hurricane Michael making its way past Connecticut on Friday morning before passing into the North Atlantic Ocean and dispersing off the east coast of the US before the weekend.
Data from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft suggests the hurricane will enter a category 3, with winds reaching between 111mph and 157mph.
In its latest advice, the NHC warned of three life-threatening hazards that could batter the northeastern Gulf Coast, urging residents in the expected impacted areas to follow advice provided by local officials.
It said: “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.
“Residents in these areas should follow advice given by local officials.”
The NHC had also said: "Michael will move across the eastern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday and Tuesday night.
“It is expected to move inland over the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend area on Wednesday, and then move northeastward across the southeastern United States Wednesday night and Thursday.
"Steady to rapid strengthening is forecast during the next day or so, and Michael is forecast to become a major hurricane by Tuesday or Tuesday night."
Dr. Rick Knabb, a hurricane expert at The Weather Channel, warned Michael could be one of the worst tropical storms ever to hit parts of Florida.
He tweeted: "Michael could be one of the worst hurricanes to ever strike the Florida Big Bend and Florida Panhandle region.
“We only have today and Tuesday to complete life-saving preparations at the coast and inland.
“Evacuate as instructed from storm surge, and shelter smart from wind!”
Hurricane Michael had battered parts of Mexico and Cuba with heavy winds and torrential downpours on Sunday night and Monday morning.