PANAMA CITY, Florida. (AP) — Gaining frightening fury overnight, Hurricane Michael closed in Wednesday on the Florida Panhandle with potentially catastrophic winds of 145 miles per hour, the most powerful storm on record ever to menace the stretch of fishing towns, military bases and spring-break beaches.
With more than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast warned to clear out, the hurricane’s leading edge began lashing the white-sand shoreline with tropical storm-force winds, rain, and rising seas before daybreak, hours before Michael’s centre was expected to blow ashore.
“I really fear for what things are going to look like there tomorrow at this time,” Colorado State University hurricane expert Phil Klotzbach said in an email.
The unexpected brute quickly sprang from a weekend tropical depression, reaching Category 4 early Wednesday as it drew energy from the Gulf of Mexico’s 84-degree waters.
That was up from a Category 2 on Tuesday afternoon.
“The time to evacuate has come and gone … SEEK REFUGE IMMEDIATELY,” Florida Governor Rick Scott tweeted, while the sheriff in Panama City’s Bay County issued a shelter-in-place order before dawn.
At 8 a.m ., Michael was centred was about 90 miles from Panama City and Apalachicola, moving fast at 13 miles per hour.
Tropical storm winds extended 185 miles from the centre, and hurricane-force winds reached out 45 miles.
Rainfall could reach up to a foot and the life-threatening storm surge could swell to 14 feet.
The storm appeared to be so powerful — with a central pressure dropping to 933 millibars — that it is expected to remain a hurricane as it moves over Georgia early Thursday.