Watch how Hurricane Michael morphed from a small tropical depression into a record-breaking Category 4 hurricane over the course of 72 hours

NOAAHurricane Michael is the most powerful storm this area of Florida has ever seen.
  • Hurricane Michael is headed for Florida. The storm quickly gained speed in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Windspeeds skyrocketed over the past three days: maximum sustained winds swirled upwards from 35 mph to 155 mph in roughly 72 hours. Wind gusts are even higher, and the National Weather Service in Tallahassee issued its first-ever Extreme Wind Warning.
  • Watch a live feed of the storm’s progress below.

Hurricane Michael whipped itself into a fury over the past 72 hours, and hit the Florida Panhandle as a monster Category 4 storm.

The 155 mph winds are already causing destructive storm surge as water pushes its way onto the shore. The National Hurricane Center says that the worst of the flooding could reach 14 feet in areas from Tyndall Air Force Base to Keaton Beach.

It’s a part of the state that’s never before seen the likes of a Category 4 storm, according to Weather Underground.

In fact, this is the strongest storm the US has seen in nearly 50 years. With Michael’s minimum pressure down to 919 millibars, it’s a more intense storm than Hurricane Maria, Andrew, or Katrina, as meteorologist Eric Holthaus pointed out on Twitter. The National Weather Service in Tallahassee issued its first-ever Extreme Wind Warning for portions of Bay, Franklin, and Gulf counties, where wind guests could top 130 mph Wednesday.

“THIS IS A WORST CASE SCENARIO for the Florida Panhandle!!” National Weather Service (NWS) director Louis Uccellini said on Twitter Monday. “Listen to your local emergency officials. Stay inside & survive!”

In the satellite imagery below, captured on The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) GOESEast camera Wednesday morning, you can see how powerful this hurricane’s symmetric inner swirl has become in a short period of time, fuelled in part by hot, sticky air, and warm water. Forecasters call this phenomenon “rapid intensification.”

As pressure inside the core of the Hurricane drops, and winds around it whip faster and faster, the eye of the storm widens, clearing out a calm, hollow center in the middle of the chaos. Take a look:

Storms that quickly strengthen like Michael can easily take forecasters by surprise.

“We don’t still understand all of the processes responsible for those rapid intensification events,” NOAA hurricane hunter Jon Zawizlak recently told Business Insider. “The forecast models have a tough time forecasting rapid intensification.”

[Read More: ‘We’re not crazy’: A NOAA hurricane hunter reveals what it’s like to fly into a big storm like Hurricane Michael]

Flooding from Michael has already claimed 13 lives in Central America, Reuters reported. Deadly hurricane-related flooding could increase in the coming years, as seas rise and storms push their waters further inland, inundating homes and businesses.

The unusual strength of Michael is also caused by a warming ocean. The Gulf of Mexico is about 2 degrees Celsius hotter than normal right now, University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy told the Associated Press. That warmer ocean water can pump more heat and evaporating seawater up into a hurricane, giving it an extra punch.

Check Michael’s progress in real-time using NOAA’s live Atlantic Hurricane Tracker.

Around 12:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, here’s what it looked like:

Michael weds 12 30NOAA

After Michael moves out of Florida, the eye of the storm is expected to head northeast, spreading into Georgia and the Carolinas on Wednesday and Thursday:

Michael track NOAA

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