By early afternoon local time Michael is expected to become one of the Panhandle region’s worst hurricanes in memory with 130mph winds and a life-threatening storm surge of up to 4m (13ft). One meteorologist, Marshall Shepherd of the University of Georgia, called the storm a “life-altering event”.
Some 375,000 people have either been ordered or urged to evacuate in the face of “life-threatening” storm surges and flash flooding. Donald Trump has said that “we are very well prepared” for impact.
The National Weather Service has added its voice to calls for Floridians to evacuate before Michael hits the state.
It also provided a diagram of projected wind speeds.
Michael’s storm surge is already making itself felt in Florida.
The NHC has warned that in places the surge may reach 13ft (4m) above normal sea levels if it comes at high tide.
” The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline,” it said in its 1am update.
In addition, some parts of Florida, Alabama and Georgia may see up to 8 inches of rain – with up to 1ft in isolated areas.
Florida governor Rick Scott has warned resident that time is running out for them to escape to safety.
Just hours beforehand, the NHC had said flooding from Michael could affect several states.
The National Hurricane Centre’s latest update says the storm is now Category 4 with maximum sustained winds of 130mph. Hurricane-force winds extend some 45 miles from the centre.
The agency said in its 1am update: “A northward motion is expected this morning, followed by a northeastward motion later today and Thursday. On the forecast track, the center of Michael will move across the northeastern Gulf of Mexico this morning.
“The centre 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 US tonight and Thursday, and then move off the mid-Atlantic coast away from the
US on Friday.”
And it warned that “additional strengthening” was possible before Michael makes landfall.
The Independent is covering Hurricane Michael live again today.
National Hurricane Centre director Ken Graham said Michael represented a “textbook case” of a hurricane system that may grow stronger as it draws near shore, in contrast to Hurricane Florence, which struck North Carolina last month after a slow, halting approach and weakening before landfall.
Michael is expected to weaken only after it hits the coast.
Mr Trump has declared a state of emergency for the whole of Florida, freeing up federal assistance to supplement state and local disaster response.
Michael could dump up to 1ft of rain over some Panhandle communities before its remnants go back out to sea by way of the mid-Atlantic states over the next few days.
Forecasters said it also could bring up to 6in of rain to Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia, triggering flash flooding in a corner of the country still recovering from Florence. Isolated tornadoes remained possible.
Additional reporting by agencies