Hurricane Michael has strengthened to a Category 2 storm with winds up to 100 miles per hour as it approaches the Florida Panhandle, the National Hurricane Center announced Tuesday.
The storm, which formed near the Yucatan Peninsula on Sunday, is expected to strengthen to a “monstrous” Category 3 storm by the time it makes landfall later this week, according to ABC News.
“Michael could develop into a potentially catastrophic event for the northeastern Gulf Coast," the National Weather Service office in Tallahassee, Florida, announced, adding that Michael could potentially be the strongest hurricane to make landfall along the Florida Panhandle in 12 years.
Michael is expected to make landfall at around 1 p.m. Wednesday near Panama City, Florida. The storm is forecast to bring winds upwards of 111 miles per hour, storm surges reaching 12 feet, and rainfall totals between four to eight inches, with some areas expected to see up to 12 inches.
The hurricane is forecast to weaken into a tropical storm as it moves through Georgia and into the Carolinas, which were just battered by Hurricane Florence, on Thursday. Later in the weeks, Michael will make its way further inland, potentially bringing rain and heavy wind to portions of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.
In preparation of the storm, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for 35 counties in the state, and the National Weather Service has issued a number of hurricane watches. He has also asked President Donald Trump for federal assistance.
“Hurricane Michael is forecast to be the most destructive storm to hit the Florida Panhandle in decades," Scott said. “Remember, this storm could grow stronger and be a Category 3 hitting our state. This storm will be life-threatening and extremely dangerous."
On Tuesday, Scott urged residents to “evacuate if you're ordered to do so,” stating that “this storm can kill you.”
“You cannot hide from storm surge," he said. “Every family must be prepared now. ... We can rebuild your house, but we cannot rebuild your life."
Hurricane watches and tropical storm warnings have also been issued in from the Alabama/Florida border westward to the Mississippi/Alabama border.
“It looked a couple of days ago like it was not going to be much,” President Trump said of the storm, “and now it’s looking like it could be a very big one, so we’re prepared, and good luck.”
The President also announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has since been mobilized and is in preparation mode.