Updated 6:40 a.m. ET
Hurricane Michael has been upgraded to an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm, the National Hurricane Center says.
As of 6:00 a.m. ET, the storm was 115 miles southwest of Apalachicola, Fla., moving north at 13 mph with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph. Michael will likely get even stronger from warm water in the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall in the Florida Panhandle Wednesday, forecasters say.
“Tropical storm conditions are expected to reach the hurricane warning area during the next few hours,” the NHC says.
The hurricane is forecast to be the most destructive storm to hit the Panhandle in decades, with anticipated life-threatening flash floods and high surges of ocean water throughout coastal areas along the Gulf, from Pensacola around the coast to Tampa.
The NHC predicts Michael’s center will move inland over the Florida Panhandle or Big Bend area before moving northeastward across the southeastern U.S. tonight and Thursday. It will then move off the Eastern coast — but as it does so, it will also regain some strength from the Atlantic Ocean.
Some 300 miles of coastline remain under storm surge, hurricane and tropical storm warnings. Storm surge warnings continue, from the Okaloosa County-Walton County Line to the Anclote River. Another spans from the Anclote River to Anna Maria Island, including Tampa Bay.
Tropical storm warnings are now in effect in the Carolinas, from South Santee River, South Carolina to Surf City, North Carolina. The Alabama-Florida border to the Mississippi-Alabama border are also under warning.
Families under mandatory evacuation in the Panhandle and Big Bend need to move inland RIGHT NOW. The decisions you & your family make over the coming hours could be the difference between life & death.
— Rick Scott (@FLGovScott) October 10, 2018
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said on Tuesday the storm could bring “total devastation to parts of our state.” At a press conference, he urged families to evacuate, reminding them of Hurricane Irma — last year’s storm that is linked to 80 deaths in Florida.
Tuesday evening, Scott took to Twitter to encourage residents to move inland. “THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE to evacuate before conditions start deteriorating within the next few hours,” he wrote.
Residents of the Panhandle and Big Bend face enormous predicted storm surges, the likes of which could destroy homes, according to the National Weather Service. The NHC predicts these coastal regions can expect 9 to 13 feet of storm surge, as the Michael’s winds force a wall of water onto the low-lying shore.
After landfall, Michael should weaken as it crosses the southeastern United States, according to the NHC.