Residents are filling sandbags and boarding up their homes as Hurricane Michael gained strength over warm waters and barrels toward Florida’s northeast Gulf Coast.
The hurricane was located about 425 miles south of Apalachicola and 455 miles south of Panama City, Florida, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 2 a.m. advisory this morning.
Wind speeds were rising according to a hurricane hunter plane, and forecasters cautioned that the storm could morph into a major hurricane with winds topping 111 mph by Tuesday night.
Michael’s top sustained winds had reach 90 mph as it headed north at 12 mph, according to the center’s advisory.
Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 35 miles from the core and tropical-storm-force winds out 175 miles.
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.
The storm very well could make landfall as a category 3 storm with winds in excess of 120 miles per hour.
The state’s Big Bend area, where the storm is expected to make landfall on Wednesday, could see up to 12 feet of storm surge, according to forecasters. Michael is also expected to hit the Panhandle that day, with the potential to dump up to a foot of rain in the area.
The U.S. military was moving its aircraft from the Panhandle on Monday. An Air Force spokesperson said roughly 50 F-22 stealth fighter jets — valued around $150 million each — have been relocated from the Tyndall Air Force Base, while the U.S. Navy said it is moving all its training aircraft from Pensacola.
Residents on the Florida panhandle were reminded rescue teams would not be able to reach them during or immediately after the hurricane hits,
“If you decide to stay in your home and a tree falls on your house or the storm surge catches you and you’re now calling for help, there’s no one that can respond to help you,” Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said at a news conference.
More than 2,000 residents in the small panhandle city of Apalachicola were making filling sandbags, stocking up on groceries and boarding up homes for what Mayor Van Johnson Sr. described as a hurricane with “significant impact.”
“We’re looking at a significant storm with significant impact, possibly greater than I’ve seen in my 59 years of life,” Johnson said.
Similar preparations were underway in Tallahassee, Fl., as residents quickly turned a large mound of sand into a small pile.