Hurricane Michael Gains Strength, Takes Aim at North Florida

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At 11 a.m. ET (1500 GMT) on Tuesday, Michael's center was about 335 miles (535 km) south-southwest of Apalachicola, Florida, heading north at around 12 mph (19 kph), the NHC said.

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.

Projections say there is little chance of Hurricane Michael making a hard turn to the right, and into the peninsula. Landfall is expected Wednesday on Florida's northeast Gulf Coast.

"Hurricane Michael is forecast to be a Category 3 storm when it makes landfall and the impact could be devastating".

As of Tuesday evening, Michael had 120mph winds, and it still had another 18 hours or so over open water to intensify before interactions with the United States landmass would force some weakening. "It's forecast to be a large and unsafe hurricane at landfall".

In all likelihood, destruction on that scale won't happen, but the most recent major storm, Hurricane Florence, caused $38 billion of damage, mostly in North Carolina and extended into SC and Virginia. "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.

"Steady to rapid strengthening is forecast during the next day or so, and Michael is forecast to become a major hurricane by Tuesday night", the NHC said.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a state of emergency in anticipation of widespread power outages, wind damage and debris produced by high winds.

The heaviest rain will tend to fall in areas that were missed by Florence and focused from the Florida Panhandle to southwestern and central Georgia to part of central SC.

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Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Florida's Democratic nominee for governor, had planned to campaign in South Florida on Monday and Tuesday, but instead threw himself into helping his city's residents fill sandbags and make other preparations.

Tropical storm warnings are posted from the Alabama/Florida border westward to Alabama's border with MS, as well as from Suwannee River, Florida, to Chassahowitzka, Florida.

Gov. Rick Scott reiterated his warnings Monday evening during a news conference in Escambia County, encouraging residents along the coast to follow any evacuations orders as soon as possible.

Michael packed winds of 120 miles per hour (195 kilometers per hour) as it aimed for the Florida Panhandle, the finger-shaped strip of land on the Gulf of Mexico.

Forecasters said Michael's tropical-storm-force winds stretched 370 miles across, with hurricane-strength winds extending up to 35 miles from the center.

Scott has declared a state of emergency in 35 counties in Florida. Forecasters warned of up to 30cm of rain in western Cuba, triggering flash floods and mudslides in mountain areas, and disaster agencies in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua reported 13 deaths as roofs collapsed and residents were carried away by swollen rivers.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered in coastal and low-lying areas along the Panhandle, including at least four counties and parts of Panama City.

The neighbouring states of Alabama and Georgia have also declared a state of emergency.

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