By Luz Lazo and Mark Berman | Washington Post
Hurricane Michael roared closer to the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday after intensifying into a Category 4 storm, gaining strength just hours before it was poised to make landfall in the afternoon as the strongest hurricane on record to strike the region.
The storm has already begun lashing the Gulf Coast with tropical-storm conditions, and it threatens to be “potentially catastrophic,” according to the National Hurricane Center.
National Weather Service forecasters issued blunt warnings about Hurricane Michael: It is already hitting Florida, and it is only getting stronger.
In a bulletin late Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center said the storm’s maximum sustained winds had increased to nearly 150 mph with some stronger gusts. Water levels were rising along the Florida Panhandle, with more than 5 feet of inundation reported at a water level station in Apalachicola.
The National Weather Service in Tallahassee, Florida’s capital, issued an “extreme wind warning” for parts of Gulf, Bay and Franklin counties in northwestern part of the state. The three counties, which stretch along the Panhandle from the area around Panama City to an area south of Tallahassee, are already feeling the impact from Hurricane Michael’s lashing rain and wind. The extreme wind warning is in effect until 2:15 p.m., the alert said.
The weather service said that radar suggests winds topping 130 mph were moving ashore, and it included in its warning late Wednesday morning a blunt and all-caps message: “THIS IS AN EXTREMELY DANGEROUS AND LIFE-THREATENING SITUATION!”
In Tallahassee, rain has been steadily increasing all morning, with more frequent downpours coming as Hurricane Michael inches closer.
Few motorists were seen on the streets of Florida’s capital city, and virtually no businesses are open. Tallahassee’s abundant live oaks, which line many residential streets, remain in good condition before noon, but residents warn they are vulnerable to high winds once the soil becomes soaked.
In one semirural community, houses were boarded up and horses sheltered in barns and beneath trees in the steady rain.
As tropical storm conditions spread across the Florida Panhandle, bridges began to close throughout the region and emergency response services were slowed and halted.
First responders were urging residents to stay put and ride out the storm as winds peaked above 50 mph in some portions of the region and Hurricane Michael continued to move up toward Bay County.
“We just urge everyone to hunker down and ride it out. It’s going to be pretty intense,” Brad Monroe, deputy chief of emergency services in Bay County said during a morning briefing from the county’s emergency operations center. “We are beginning to see the outer edge of the high speed winds … Anyone that is sheltered in place needs to stay there.”
He said preparations are being made for post-storm recovery efforts, but as of Wednesday morning the condition were already too dangerous for emergency personnel to be out.
“First responders are ready to go as soon as conditions allow,” an emotional Monroe said during the morning briefing. “It’s just simply too dangerous to send our people …read more
Source:: The Mercury News – Nation, World