Hurricane Michael: ‘Potentially catastrophic’ storm begins battering Florida

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The unexpected brute quickly sprang from a weekend tropical depression, reaching Category 4 early Wednesday as it drew energy from the Gulf of Mexicos warm waters, an unseasonably high 84 degrees.

Hurricane Michael, which intensified into a Category 4 storm overnight, is expected to make landfall at that strength near Panama City later Wednesday.

However, Hurricane Michael's strong winds and storm surge could be devastating.

- Timothy Thomas isn't budging from his home on Ocean View Drive, even though it's directly in the path of Hurricane Michael.

The Florida Panhandle could see storm surges of up to 13 feet, life-threatening hurricane winds, heavy rainfall and flash-flooding, the NHC said. Some parts of the Carolinas - recently deluged by Hurricane Florence - and southern Virginia could see up to 6 inches, the hurricane center said. 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. All told, over 100 counties throughout multiple states have received emergency declarations, and this CNN clip shows the storm's frightening approach on radar.

"SEEK REFUGE IMMEDIATELY", Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted, while the sheriff in Panama Citys Bay County issued a shelter-in-place order before dawn.

Florida State University announced it was closing for the week on Tuesday, along with schools in Leon County, home to the state capital Tallahassee.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency for her state Tuesday because of expected wide-spread power outages and wind damage.

"Families should take the opportunity today to make sure they have three days of food and water, as well as all needed medications", Governor Scott wrote on Twitter.

At 8 a.m., it was centered about 90 miles southwest of Panama City with top winds of 145 mph and moving at 13 mph.

Maximum sustained winds are at 140 miles per hour as it moves north over the Gulf of Mexico at 13 miles per hour. A Category 4 storm has maximum sustained winds of between 130 miles per hour and 156 miles per hour.

While the storm loomed over the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, cameras aboard the International Space Station captured views of Hurricane Michael at 12:13pm and 12:50pm ET. Peak winds will reach nearly 200kmh at landfall.

While Panama City Beach Mayor Mike Thomas says his city and the surrounding areas are "lucky" due to their good infrastructure and high elevation, he says people may be underestimating the power of the storm surges, which could reach seven to 11 feet in some places.

"That means the water will come miles in shore and could easily rise over the roofs of houses", Scott said. Airbnb is offering free shelter to evacuees in some parts of Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

Most of the waterfront homes stood vacant in Keaton Beach, which could get some of the highest water - seas up 9 feet (2.75 meters) above ground level. Following Hurricane Irma past year, 14 people died when a South Florida nursing home lost power and air conditioning. A tropical storm watch has been issued from South Santee River South Carolina to Duck North Carolina, including Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds.

The storm surge in some places in Florida could reach more than 10 feet, the NHC warned.