Hurricane Michael could be the most destructive storm to hit Florida's Panhandle in decades

  • Hurricane Michael is forecast to be the most destructive storm to hit Florida’s Panhandle in decades. It reached Category 2 strength on Tuesday morning.
  • The storm is expected to strengthen to Category 3 before hitting Florida on Wednesday, bringing life-threatening winds and storm surge.
  • Heavy rain caused by Michael killed 13 people in Central America over the weekend.
  • Tens of thousands of people in Florida have been ordered to evacuate, while Florida’s governor warned that the hurricane “could be devastating.”

Hurricane Michael is expected to reach Category 3 strength before making landfall in Florida’s Panhandle, where mandatory evacuations have already been ordered. Florida’s governor has said it could be the most destructive storm there in decades.

The storm reached Category 2 strength on Tuesday morning, prompting warnings about threats to life and the introduction of mandatory evacuations in coastal counties.

Torrential downpours and flash flooding caused by Michael over the weekend resulted in 13 deaths in Central America after the storm formed off the coast of northern Honduras, Reuters reported.

This GIF from the National Weather Service shows Hurricane Michael moving toward the Florida Panhandle on Monday.

Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in 35 Florida counties. In a press conference on Monday, he said Hurricane Michael was a “massive storm.”

“We haven’t seen anything like this in the Panhandle in decades,” he said.

Tens of thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate in Wakulla, Gulf and Bay counties, Reuters reported.

Scott tweeted on Tuesday that the storm was dangerous. “The window of time to prepare is closing,” he wrote. “This is a serious and life-threatening situation- don’t take any chances. If you have been told to evacuate, leave.”

Scott said that 1,250 National Guard troops had been activated, with more than 4,000 others on standby.

Warnings are in place for more than 300 miles of coastline.

These include warnings for life-threatening storm surge, which the National Weather Service forecasts will reach 12 feet in some places. The NWS also warned of life-threatening winds along the Florida Gulf Coast.

As of 8 a.m. ET on Tuesday, the hurricane was 365 miles away from Apalachicola, Florida. It had maximum sustained winds of nearly 100 mph, with some higher gusts, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The storm would be the first major hurricane to hit the Panhandle since Hurricane Dennis in 2005, according to the center.

While the NWS says Hurricane Michael will make landfall in Florida as a “major hurricane,” it also predicts it will weaken as it moves through the Southeast on Wednesday night and Thursday.

Hurricane conditions, including heavy rainfall and flash flooding, are expected to lash Cuba on Tuesday, according to the NWS.

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