Now a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour, Michael could achieve Category 3 status this week before making landfall along the Florida Panhandle late Wednesday or early Thursday. He 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 those near the coast to evacuate inland.
Michael's large size, strong winds and heavy rains could produce hazardous flooding along a stretch of Florida's Gulf coast with many rivers and estuaries where seawater pushed ashore by a hurricane could get trapped, said Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham.
Florida State University announced it was closing for the week on Tuesday, along with schools in Leon County, home to the state capital Tallahassee.
Michael was now a Category 1 hurricane but could become a Category 3 storm by Tuesday on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, with winds of at least 100 miles per hour (160 km per hour).
Michael's maximum sustained winds increased to 90 miles per hour on Monday night, the National Hurricane Center reported in its 11 p.m. EST update.
The Department of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday said it has alerted Filipinos in 5 southeastern U.S. states to prepare for Hurricane Michael, forecast to crash ashore midweek as a major Category 3 storm. Based on the latest analysis from the NHC, surge inundation flooding of 9 to 13 feet is possible in vulnerable areas between Mexico Beach and Keaton Beach.
Michael's trek to Florida is also affecting politics in the state. "Do not risk your life, leave NOW if you were told to do so", the NWS in Tallahassee, Florida, tweeted Wednesday morning. As of Saturday night, the forecast looks like western Florida could see the most intense part of the storm. "You can not hide from storm surge, so get out if an evacuation is ordered".
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By 5 p.m. Monday, Michael's top sustained winds were around 80 miles per hour. Two days from now, forecasts project it will be a major hurricane (category three or stronger) bearing down on the gulf coast of Florida.
The 11 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center indicated that hurricane-force winds extended 30 miles from the storm's center, and tropical storm-force winds extended up to 175 miles away.
Hurricane Michael will cross interior portions of Eastern North Carolina (S. of Oregon Inlet to Cape Hatteras) late Thursday through Friday morning.
"Today it is about life and safety", Gillum said. "The potentially worst impact will be the storm surge".
By the time Michael reaches the Carolinas, it will be a weakening tropical storm.
On the Florida Panhandle, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan bluntly advised residents who choose to ride out the storm that first responders would not be able to reach them during or immediately after Michael smashes into the coast.