The Latest: Michael strengthens into Category 2 hurricane
MIAMI (AP) — The Latest on Hurricane Michael (all times local):
Hurricane Michael has strengthened into a Category 2 storm with top wind speeds of 100 mph (155 kph) as it continues its path toward the Florida Panhandle.
As of 8 a.m. Tuesday, the storm was moving north-northwestward over the southern Gulf of Mexico at about 12 mph (19 kph).
The National Hurricane Center in Miami says the hurricane was 395 miles (635 kilometers) south of Panama City, Florida, and 365 miles (590 kilometers) south of Apalachicola, Florida.
Mandatory evacuations are in effect along much of Florida’s northern Gulf Coast, stretching from the Panhandle into the area known as the Big Bend.
Michael is forecast to hit the Florida coast Wednesday before moving over Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas Wednesday night and Thursday.
Mandatory evacuations are under way in Panama City Beach and across other low-lying parts of the Florida Panhandle as Hurricane Michael approaches.
The evacuation orders went into effect Tuesday morning for some 120,000 people near the beach and other areas of Bay County. During an emergency meeting of the Bay County Commission on Monday night, Sheriff Tommy Ford said people will “not be dragged out of their homes,” but reminded those who stay that first responders may not be able to reach them once the storm hits.
Ford says “people need to start leaving now,” adding that the roads are going to get “more and more congested as time goes on.”
Commissioner Bill Dozier also reminded anyone staying behind to stock up on supplies and “don’t expect the government to help take care of you. You need to take care of yourselves.”
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Hurricane Michael was centered about 420 miles (675 kilometers) south of Panama City at 5 a.m. Tuesday.
Hurricane Michael continues to gain strength as it moves through the southern Gulf of Mexico.
By 5 a.m. Tuesday, Michael’s top sustained winds had risen some to 90 mph (144 kph) as it headed north at 12 mph (19 kph).
The Category 1 storm was centered about 390 miles (627 kilometers) south of Apalachicola and 420 miles (675 kilometers) south of Panama City, Florida. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 35 miles (56 kilometers) from the core and tropical-storm-force winds out 175 miles (280 kilometers). Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 40 miles (64 kilometers) from the core and tropical-storm-force winds out 195 miles (313.81 kilometers).
Forecasters say the center of Michael will continue to move over the southern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday morning. The storm will then move across the eastern Gulf of Mexico later Tuesday into the night.
The center is then expected to move inland over the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend area on Wednesday, and then move northeastward across the southeastern United States Wednesday night and Thursday.
Michael has gained new strength over warm tropical waters and is forecast to quickly intensify into a major hurricane before a midweek landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast
In the Florida Panhandle and surrounding areas, people are frantically boarding up homes, filling sandbags and planning for evacuation routes away from the storm’s projected strike zone.
A hurricane hunter plane that bounced into the swirling eye of Michael off the western tip of Cuba late Monday found wind speeds were rising even as forecasters warned the storm could reach major hurricane status with winds topping 111 mph (179 kph) by Tuesday night.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott calls it a “monstrous hurricane” and is warning of a potentially devastating strike sometime Wednesday.