Hurricane Michael strengthened to a Category 4 storm at 01:00 (local time) on Wednesday, October 10, making it possibly the strongest storm to ever hit the Florida panhandle. Mandatory evacuation notices are in effect for 120,000 residents in the Florida panhandle and "Big Bend" counties of Bay, Citrus, Dixie, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson, Jefferson, Levy, Okaloosa, Taylor, Wakulla, and Walton. Officials are warning residents to heed evacuation notices and confirm shelter statuses, as some shelters are not rated for storms above Category 2.
The US National Weather Service (NWS) warns of "extremely dangerous" conditions, specifically life-threatening storm surge, damaging wind, flooding rain, and conditions favorable for tornados. Storm surges of up to 4 m (13 ft) above tide levels are forecast in Florida from Mexico Beach to Keaton Beach with up to 2.7 m (9 ft) of storm surge beyond that from Destin to Cedar Key. Michael is forecast to drop large amounts of rain capable of producing flash floods across the southeastern US. Rainfall of 10-20 cm (4-8 in) and up to 30 cm (12 in) is forecast across southern Alabama, the Florida panhandle and "Big Bend" area, and southern and central Georgia, with 7.5-15 cm (3-6 in) and up to 20 cm (8 in) forecast for the rest of Georgia, North and South Carolina, and southern Virginia.
As of 01:00, Michael was located 290 km (180 mi) south-southwest of Panama City (Florida) and producing sustained winds of 210 km/h (130 mph). Flight cancelations have been reported at most airports in the panhandle. Other transportation disruptions are expected, along with flooding and power disruptions.
Tropical storm and hurricanes are common in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico from June through November, though major hurricanes rarely approach the Florida panhandle from this angle. If Michael remains at its current strength, it will be the strongest recorded storm to ever hit the region.
Individuals in the affected areas are advised to monitor local weather reports, adhere to instructions issued by local authorities (e.g. evacuation notices), and confirm travel plans. Remember that walking or driving through running water can be dangerous - 15 cm (6 in) of running water is enough to knock over an adult - and floodwaters can contain wastewater and chemical products; all items having come into contact with floodwater should be disinfected and all foodstuffs discarded.
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