Hurricane Michael could strike Panhandle as a Category 4 storm

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An estimated 120,000 people along the Florida Panhandle were ordered to clear out on Tuesday as Hurricane Michael rapidly picked up steam in the Gulf of Mexico and closed in with winds of 110 miles per hour and a potential storm surge of 12 feet.

Hurricane Michael intensified on Tuesday as it barreled toward the Florida coast, becoming a major Category 3 storm capable of "devastating damage" which the state's governor warned could be the worst in decades.

The clockwise churn of an area of high pressure centered over DE is what's keeping Michael on a more northerly path toward the Panhandle and away from South Florida, said AccuWeather senior hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski.

The storm will quickly move inland and race to the northeast through the Southeastern US, exiting the Mid-Atlantic and sliding south of New England before the weekend. Landfall is expected Wednesday on Florida's northeast Gulf Coast.

At least 57,000 coastal homes, as well as high-rise condos and businesses, will be at risk from the landfall of Hurricane Michael.

Storm surge warnings are also in place along the Florida and Alabama coasts. Forecasters expect Michael will be followed by the first true taste of fall weather in North Carolina this year, with sunny skies and high temperatures in the low 70s both Saturday and Sunday. "If it doesn't reach Category 3 but has 110 miles per hour winds, it's still going to be a bad storm". "Persons located within these areas should take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other unsafe conditions", the hurricane center said.

Energy companies halted almost a fifth of Gulf of Mexico oil production and moved staff from 10 platforms on Monday as Michael was forecast to become the strongest of three named storms to affect the US Gulf of Mexico this year.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum canceled campaign events in South Florida on Monday and Tuesday to prepare for the storm, his campaign said. Flooding rains of 10 to 20 centimetres, with hurricane force winds and storm surge of up to 3½ metres are in the forecast for the region.

Mandatory evacuations are underway for Citrus County residents living in Zone A, or in mobile homes.

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Areas likely to be hardest hit include the Crestview-Fort Walton Beach area, Panama City and Florida's state capital, Tallahassee.

A tropical storm warning was issued from Fernandina Beach Florida to South Santee River South Carolina.

The National Weather Service said Michael could produce life-threatening hazards along portions of the northeastern Gulf Coast, including storm surge, heavy rainfall, and hurricane-force winds.

Gulf County officials issued a mandatory evacuation for all of Cape San Blas, all of Indian Pass area, Simmons Bayou, Highland View, and Windmark.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday approved a pre-landfall emergency declaration at the request of Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

The hurricane, now off Cuba's western tip, is expected to make landfall on the Florida panhandle and affect portions of southern Alabama.

In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal declared a preemptive state of emergency for 92 counties.

Forecasters warned that Michael could ultimately dump a foot (30 centimeters) of rain in western Cuba, triggering flash floods and mudslides in mountain areas.

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