PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) -- Gaining frightening fury
overnight, Hurricane Michael closed in Wednesday on the Florida Panhandle with
potentially catastrophic winds of 145 mph, the most powerful storm on record
ever to menace the stretch of fishing towns, military bases and spring-break
With more than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast
warned to clear out, the hurricane's leading edge began lashing the white-sand
shoreline with tropical storm-force winds, rain and rising seas before
daybreak, hours before Michael's center was expected to blow ashore.
"I really fear for what things are going to look like
there tomorrow at this time," Colorado State University hurricane expert
Phil Klotzbach said in an email.
The unexpected brute quickly sprang from a weekend tropical
depression, reaching Category 4 early Wednesday as it drew energy from the Gulf
of Mexico's 84-degree waters. That was up from a Category 2 on Tuesday
"The time to evacuate has come and gone ... SEEK REFUGE
IMMEDIATELY," Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted, while the sheriff in Panama
City's Bay County issued a shelter-in-place order before dawn.
At 8 a.m ., Michael was centered was about 90 miles from Panama City and Apalachicola, moving fast at 13 mph.
Tropical storm winds extended 185 miles from the center, and
hurricane-force winds reached out 45 miles.
Rainfall could reach up to a foot, and the
life-threatening storm surge could swell to 14 feet.
The storm appeared to be so powerful -- with a central
pressure dropping to 933 millibars -- that it is expected to remain a hurricane
as it moves over Georgia early Thursday. Forecasters said it will unleash
damaging winds and rain all the way into the Carolinas, which are still
recovering from Hurricane Florence's epic flooding.
"We are in new territory," National Hurricane
Center meteorologist Dennis Feltgen wrote on Facebook. "The historical
record, going back to 1851, finds no Category 4 hurricane ever hitting the
Several hours ahead of landfall, seawater was already
lapping over the docks at Massalina Bayou near downtown Panama City, and
knee-deep water was rising against buildings in St. Marks, which sits on an
inlet south of Tallahassee.
Huge waves pounded the white sands of Panama City Beach,
shooting frothy water all the way to the base of wooden stairs that lead to the