Hurricane Michael nears Alabama, Georgia

Oct. 10 (UPI) — The eye of Hurricane Michael neared Alabama and Georgia on Wednesday afternoon after making landfall in the Florida Panhandle as a Category 4 storm, the National Hurricane Center said.

With maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, Michael was 2 mph shy of a Category 5 hurricane when it struck land.

The eye of the storm was 30 miles west of Bainbridge, Ga., and 70 miles southwest of Albany, Ga., as of the NHC’s 4 p.m. CDT update. The storm was moving north-northeast at 16 mph with 125 maximum sustained winds, a Category 3 storm.

There was a storm surge warning in effect from the Okaloosa/Walton county line to the Anclote River in Florida, and a storm surge watch in effect from Ocracoke Inlet, N.C., to Duck, N.C.

A hurricane warning was in place from the Okaloosa/Walton county line to the Suwannee River and a tropical storm warning was in effect for north of Fernandina Beach, Fla., to Duck, N.C., and Pamlico and Albemarle sounds.

On the forecast track, Michael was expected to pass northeast through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia on Wednesday Thursday as a tropical storm.

Heavy rainfall was projected for areas in the storm’s path. The NHC forecasts up to 8 inches for the panhandle, southeast Alabama, and parts of southwest and central Georgia. Isolated areas could get 12 inches and life-threatening flash floods.

Overnight Tuesday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott posted a series of tweets warning residents to prepare and evacuate.

“This is your last chance to evacuate before conditions start deteriorating within the next few hours,” Scott wrote. “Storm surge can occur before, during, or after the center of a storm passes through an area. I’m asking all Floridians to stay vigilant throughout tonight and tomorrow as we brace for Hurricane Michael to make landfall.”

Forecasters warned that Michael’s strength could be “catastrophic” for communities in its path — anywhere from Pensacola on the western flank of the Florida Panhandle to Tampa. They said Michael could be the strongest hurricane to hit that stretch of coastline in 13 years.

Large waves were expected from Mexico Beach to Keaton Beach, where they could reach 9 feet to 13 feet in height. Storm surge could reach heights of 6 feet to 9 feet from the Okaloosa-Walton County line to Mexico Beach and from Keaton Beach to Cedar Key. Cedar Key to Chassahowitzka could see storm surge topping out between 4 feet to 6 feet. The areas from Chassahowitzka to Anna Maria Island and between the Alabama-Florida border and the Okaloosa-Walton county line could see 2 feet to 4 feet of storm surge.

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