The National Hurricane Center (NHC) says Hurricane Michael is packing even more punch: It strengthened into a Category 4 storm early Wednesday, with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. According to the NHC's latest advisory, Michael could produce a life-threatening storm surge as high as 13 feet and dump as much as a foot of rain in some places.
Weather officials say Michael has been drawing energy from warm Gulf of Mexico waters, with ocean temperatures in the mid-80s.
The NHC says some additional strengthening is possible before Michael makes landfall midday Wednesday in the Florida Panhandle or Florida "Big Bend" area. Michael is then expected to weaken as it then moves through the Southeastern United States.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott says Michael is expected to be the most destructive storm to hit the Panhandle in decades. "This storm is dangerous, and if you don't follow warnings from officials, this storm could kill you," he said at a news conference.
"We don't know if it's going to wipe out our house or not," Jason McDonald, of Panama City, said as he and his wife drove north into Alabama with their two children, ages 5 and 7. "We want to get them out of the way." Coastal residents rushed to board up their homes and stock up on bottled water and other supplies.
The National Weather Service in Tampa Bay tweeted an image of Hurricane Michael's eye, which is now close enough to be monitored by land based radar at Eglin Air Force Base in Okaloosa County, Florida.
The circular eye of dangerous category 3 Hurricane #Michael is now fully in view of land based radar from Eglin AFB...spinning to the south of Panama City Beach as of midnight Wednesday October 10th. #flwx @NWSTallahassee pic.twitter.com/728qw1yEt1— NWS Tampa Bay (@NWSTampaBay) October 10, 2018
The Federal Aviation Administration told travelers ahead of Hurricane Michael's arrival to closely monitor their airliner for status updates.
#HurricaneMichael Update: As #HurricaneMichael approaches, please check with your #airline for flight and delay information. Also, the #FAA has information available at https://t.co/H3UVt43aZx for #travelers, #drone operators and general #aviation pilots. #BeSafe #SafetyFirst pic.twitter.com/oo5tyPWyBW— The FAA (@FAANews) October 9, 2018
The FAA says, "because of Hurricane Michael, airlines are likely to cancel many flights in the direct path of the storm and the surrounding areas. Flights that are not cancelled may be delayed. Once Hurricane Michael makes ground fall, airports may be listed as 'open', but flooding on local roadways may limit access to airports for passengers, as well as the employees who work for the airlines or at the airport."