Hurricane Michael strengthened to a Category 4 storm on Wednesday morning as it barrels towards the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend areas. When it strikes, it will be the most powerful storm on record to hit the region, according to officials.
“This is an unprecedented event as there are no Category 4 storms on record to have made landfall along the Florida Panhandle coast,” the National Weather Service (NWS) said in its latest storm warning.
Michael wields maximum sustained winds of 145 mph and threatens to bring heavy rainfall and a massive storm surge — up to 12 feet in parts of northwestern Florida. (RELATED: Rick Scott Issues Dire Warning Ahead Of Hurricane Michael)
Nine major hurricanes have made landfall on the Florida Panhandle since 1851, according to meteorologist Philip Klotzbach. However, none of them were at Category 4 strength when hitting land.
Only 7 hurricanes to hit Florida have had a lower central pressure reading than Michael, according to Klotzbach. After landfall, Michael is expected to weaken and head northeast, dumping rain as it goes.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott urged residents to be prepared for catastrophic, life-threatening storm damages.
“This is your last chance to get prepared for this monstrous and deadly storm. Hurricane Michael has already taken lives in Central America. Let me be clear,” Scott warned during a Tuesday press conference.
“Hurricane Michael is going to hit very near to where we are in Franklin County as a dangerous and life-threatening major hurricane, and if you don’t follow the warnings from these officials, the storm could kill you,” the Republican added.
Likewise, the NWS officials warned there “is an increasing threat for tornadoes this morning as rain bands are already moving onshore.”
“Michael is expected to bring life-threatening storm surge, widespread power outages that will last days to even more than a week in some areas, downed trees that will block access to roads and endanger individuals, structural damage to homes and businesses, isolated flash flooding and the potential for tornadoes,” NWS said in its latest report.
“Trees falling on homes will become a dangerous and potentially deadly situation,” NWS warned. “The time for preparations is quickly ending.”
Out in the Gulf of Mexico, oil companies evacuated personnel from dozens of offshore rigs. About 40 percent of offshore oil production and nearly one-third of natural gas production has been shut in as the storm moves past.