The National Hurricane Center (NHC) says Hurricane Michael is packing even more punch: It strengthened into a Category 4 storm early Wednesday, with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. According to the NHC's latest advisory, Michael could produce a life-threatening storm surge as high as 13 feet and dump as much as a foot of rain in some places.
Weather officials say Michael has been drawing energy from warm Gulf of Mexico waters, with ocean temperatures in the mid-80s.
The NHC said Michael should make landfall midday Wednesday in the Florida Panhandle or Florida "Big Bend" area. The storm is then forecast to weaken as it moves through the Southeastern United States.
States of emergency were in effect in Florida, Alabama and Georgia.
The unexpected brute that quickly sprang from a weekend tropical depression rose in days to a catastrophic system. Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Michael could be the most destructive storm to hit the Panhandle in decades. "This storm is dangerous, and if you don't follow warnings from officials, this storm could kill you," he said at a news conference.
Florida officials said roughly 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast had been urged or ordered to evacuate.
"We don't know if it's going to wipe out our house or not," Jason McDonald, of Panama City, said as he and his wife drove north into Alabama with their two children, ages 5 and 7. "We want to get them out of the way." Coastal residents rushed to board up their homes and stock up on bottled water and other supplies.
Follow along below for live updates:
Hurricane Michael speeding toward Fla. Panhandle
Hurricane Michael, which the National Hurricane Center describes as "extremely dangerous, " was moving steadily toward its forecast afternoon landfall over Florida's Panhandle as of 5 a.m. EDT on Wednesday -- with 140 mph sustained winds.
The NHC said the storm was some 140 miles south-southwest of Panama City, Florida and 130 miles southwest of Apalachicola,Florida, moving north at 13 mph.
The center said Michael could generate a "life-threatening" storm surge as high as 13 feet over some spots as well as up to a foot of rain in some areas.
Michael now "extremely dangerous" Category 4 hurricane
Hurricane Michael strengthened into a fierce Category 4 storm early Wednesday, with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.
Forecasters said Michael could produce a life-threatening storm surge as high as 13 feet in some areas and as much as a foot of rain in some spots.
As of 2 a.m., Michael was some 180 miles south-southwest of Panama City, Florida and about 170 miles southwest of Apalachicola, Florida, moving due north at a steady clip of 12 mph.
"On its forecast track," the center said, "the center of Michael will move across the northeastern Gulf of Mexico this morning. The center of Michael's eye is then expected to move inland over the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend area later today, move northeastward across the southeastern United States tonight and Thursday, and then move off the Mid-Atlantic coast away from the United States on Friday."
" ... Some additional strengthening is possible today before Michael makes landfall in the Florida Panhandle or the Florida Big Bend area. Weakening is expected after landfall as Michael moves across the Southeastern United States."
Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 45 miles from Michael's eye and tropical-storm-force winds extended outward up to 175 miles.
The NHC said Michael will also up the threat of tornadoes Wednesday for parts of the Florida Panhandle, the northern Florida Peninsula and Southern Georgia.
National Weather Service posts image of Hurricane Michael's eye
The National Weather Service in Tampa Bay tweeted an image of Hurricane Michael's eye, which is now close enough to be monitored by land based radar at Eglin Air Force Base in Okaloosa County, Florida.
The Federal Aviation Administration told travelers ahead of Hurricane Michael's arrival to closely monitor their airliner for status updates.
On its website, the FAA says, "because of Hurricane Michael, airlines are likely to cancel many flights in the direct path of the storm and the surrounding areas. Flights that are not cancelled may be delayed. Once Hurricane Michael makes ground fall, airports may be listed as 'open', but flooding on local roadways may limit access to airports for passengers, as well as the employees who work for the airlines or at the airport."
FAA provided links to various airline companies to check flight status: