Hurricane Michael now a Category 3 storm, sustained winds top 120 mph
Hurricane Michael continues to strengthen as a Category 3 storm with top wind speeds of 120 mph as it continues its path toward the Florida Panhandle. A Category 3 storm is 111 mph to 129.
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, Michael was moving north over the southern Gulf of Mexico at about 12 mph.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami says the hurricane was 220 miles south of Panama City, Florida, and 200 miles south of Apalachicola, Florida.
Mandatory evacuations are in effect along much of Florida’s northern Gulf Coast, stretching from the Panhandle into the area known as the Big Bend.
Michael is forecast to hit the Florida coast Wednesday before moving over Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas Wednesday night and Thursday.
Mandatory evacuations are underway in Panama City Beach and across other low-lying parts of the Florida Panhandle as Hurricane Michael approaches.
The evacuation orders went into effect Tuesday morning for some 120,000 people near the beach and other areas of Bay County. During an emergency meeting of the Bay County Commission on Monday night, Sheriff Tommy Ford said people will “not be dragged out of their homes,” but reminded those who stay that first responders may not be able to reach them once the storm hits.
WINK News reporter Kelsey Kushner was live in Tallahassee where people are getting ready for the storm.
*Story continues below map.
Ford says “people need to start leaving now,” adding that the roads are going to get “more and more congested as time goes on.”
Commissioner Bill Dozier also reminded anyone staying behind to stock up on supplies and “don’t expect the government to help take care of you. You need to take care of yourselves.”
Neighbors in Alabama — the entire state is under an emergency declaration — also were bracing. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said she feared widespread power outages and other problems would follow. Forecasters also warned spinoff tornadoes would also be a threat.
With the storm next entering the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico, which has warm water and favorable atmospheric conditions, “there is a real possibility that Michael will strengthen to a major hurricane before landfall,” Robbie Berg, a hurricane specialist at the Miami-based storm forecasting hub, wrote in an advisory.
A large mound of sand in Tallahassee was whittled down to a small pile within hours Monday as residents filled sandbags against potential flooding.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Florida’s Democratic nominee for governor, filled sandbags with residents and urged residents of the state capital city to finish up emergency preparations quickly. Local authorities fear power outages and major tree damage from Michael.
“Today it is about life and safety,” Gillum said. “There’s nothing between us and this storm but warm water and I think that’s what terrifies us about the potential impacts.”