Hurricane Michael gains strength, takes aim at north Florida
MIAMI (AP) — Hurricane Michael intensified into a Category 2 over warm Gulf of Mexico waters Tuesday amid fears it would strike Florida on Wednesday as an even stronger hurricane.
Mandatory evacuations were issued as beach dwellers rushed to board up homes just ahead of what could be a devastating hit.
A hurricane hunter plane that bounced into the swirling eye off the western tip of Cuba found wind speeds rising.
By 8 a.m. Tuesday, top winds had reached 100 miles per hour, and it was forecast to strengthen into a “major” hurricane, with winds topping 111 miles per hour.
The speed of the storm barrelling toward the Florida Panhandle — Michael was moving north-northwest at 12 miles per hour— was among the hazards worrying forecasters at the National Hurricane Center on Tuesday morning.
Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said there were just hours left until Michael’s wind gusts and rain bands would start whipping the coast.
“Guess what? That’s today,” Graham said. “If they tell you to leave, you have to leave.”
Governor Rick Scott warned people across northwest Florida at a news conference Tuesday morning that the “monstrous hurricane” was just hours away, bringing deadly risks from high winds, storm surge, and heavy rains.
His opponent in Florida’s Senate race, Senator Bill Nelson, said a “wall of water” could cause major destruction along the Panhandle.
“Don’t think that you can ride this out if you’re in a low-lying area,” Nelson said on CNN.
Mandatory evacuation orders went into effect Tuesday morning for some 120,000 people in Panama City Beach and across other low-lying parts of the coast.