Hurricane Michael, nearing landfall, could be Florida Panhandle's 'worst storm ... in a century'

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 10/10/2018, 10:50 a.m.
A terrifyingly powerful Category 4 Hurricane Michael was poised to become the strongest hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle in ...
If it makes landfall as a Category 4, it'll be the strongest hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle in recorded history, CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said. It would also be the strongest storm in terms of wind speed to make landfall in the country this year.

Only three major hurricanes Category 3 or higher have struck the Panhandle since 1950: Eloise in 1975, Opal in 1995 and Dennis in 2005.

'I'm definitely getting a little bit more scared'

Michael's rapid intensification -- it was a tropical storm in the Gulf on Sunday and a Category 1 hurricane midday Monday -- may have caught some coastal residents by surprise, despite forecasters' warnings of strengthening.

Newlyweds Jessica Ayers and Don Hogg told CNN they and some relatives were staying put in Panama City on Wednesday morning, having decided against leaving because they weren't in an evacuation zone.

Michael's intensification was unwelcome news.

"I'm definitely getting a little bit more scared, I have to say," Ayers said.

They have a generator, so they hope to have power, should regular service stop. They've identified an interior bathroom as a place to take cover if winds get extreme.

Janelle Frost and Tracy Dunn told CNN they were staying put in nearby Panama City Beach. They said they wanted to stay to help those who couldn't afford to leave, such as retirees.

"There's so many people that live around where we're at, and we wanted to make sure they're OK," Frost said. "We made the decision to stay to try and help them."

In Tallahassee, Kaitlyn Mae Christensen Sacco said she was taking refuge in her home. She has a generator and a camp stove, and she parked her car at a nearby church lot bare of any trees that might come down.

"We have our bathroom set up with blankets, a battery-powered fan, water, snacks and the tub set up for our dogs with pee pads," she said.

Even before landfall, Michael was sending ocean water onto the Panhandle's shores. Water was creeping into the southern Wakulla County town of Panacea, a picture from the National Weather Service showed.

In Pensacola Beach, well west of where Michael's eyewall was heading, huge waves were crashing ashore on Wednesday morning, video from Joe Durant showed.

Rain just one of several threats

A hurricane warning was in place from the Alabama-Florida border to the Suwannee River in Florida.

Meanwhile, tropical storm warnings were in effect for parts of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. Storm surge warnings were in place along the Florida and Alabama coasts.

While it's likely to weaken as it moves across the southeastern United States, its heavy rains and flooding effects will spread far and wide.

Up to 12 inches of rain could fall in Florida's Panhandle and Big Bend areas, as well as southeastern Alabama and southern Georgia. Some parts of the Carolinas -- recently deluged by Hurricane Florence -- and southern Virginia could see up to 6 inches, the hurricane center said.

Florence made landfall last month as a Category 1 storm, killing dozens in the Carolinas and Virginia.

But the storm's center and where it makes landfall with its destructive winds represent just one of several concerns.