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Raleigh, N.C. — Hurricane Michael is making landfall along the Florida Panhandle after strengthening into a Category 4 storm early Wednesday.
Top things to know about the storm:
- Gov. Roy Cooper has placed North Carolina under a state of emergency.
- The Triangle could see 3-6 inches of rain in a short time, which could cause flash flooding.
- Wind gusts could range between 30 and 60 mph, knocking down trees and power lines and causing widespread outages.
The storm is expected to weaken as it moves north through the Southeast, but WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner said Triangle residents should take the storm seriously.
“For us, this storm is not going to be like Fran, Florence or Matthew,” she said. “However, it is a storm we need to take seriously. This is an enormous storm.”
Wayne County public schools will be closed Thursday, the district announced Wednesday. A full list of closings is online.
WRAL meteorologist Aimee Wilmoth said the storm’s local impacts will include:
- A flash flood watch continues through Thursday for the Triangle. A tropical storm warning extends across most of southeastern North Carolina.
- Winds: Will be gusty through Thursday night (40-50 mph gusts). Weak trees will be knocked down. The strongest winds will be south and east of Raleigh.
- Localized flash flooding: The possibility exists from Wednesday night to Thursday night, with 3-6 inches of rain possible and pockets of 6-8 inches.
- River flooding: The threat exists Friday to Sunday, with the biggest threat from the Sandhills and coastal plain.
- Tornadoes: The risk of exists Thursday and is largely isolated southeast of the Triangle.
- Weather alerts and advisories: Several central North Carolina counties are under a tropical storm warning with wind gusts possible from 39-57 mph on Thursday. This includes Beaufort, Bladen, Brunswick, Cateret, Cumberland, Dare, Edgecombe, Harnett, Hoke and Moore. Full list of counties under a weather alerts
- Power outages: The greatest risk ranges from Thursday into Thursday night, and isolated outages are possible.
Several North Carolina counties still reeling from Florence, which raked the Tar Heel State last month, are not taking any chances with Hurricane Michael. Pender and Brunswick counties have declared a state of emergency. Public schools in Brunswick have been canceled for Thursday and Friday.
“North Carolina is staring down another powerful hurricane less than a month after Florence battered our state,” Cooper said during a news conference. “The last thing people cleaning up from Florence need is more wind and rain.”
Cooper activated 150 North Carolina National Guard members to assist with storm response, and the state of emergency allows equipment to be staged in various areas for quick response during and after the storm.
Gardner said rain and winds will arrive in the Triangle for Thursday and linger into the early-morning hours of Friday. She said it will bring winds that will fell trees and cause power outages. Gardner said flash flooding will also occur as the system moves through North Carolina.
“There will be some heavier pockets of wind gusts,” she said. “That’s going to knock down some trees.
On Friday, the storm will move out of North Carolina, and winds and rain will diminish.
“We’ll have a much quieter weekend,” Gardner said.
Florida facing potentially catastrophic storm
The unexpected brute that quickly sprang from a weekend tropical depression grew swiftly, rising in days to a catastrophic storm. Around midday, it was expected to become one of the Panhandle’s worst hurricanes in memory, with heavy rainfall expected along the northeastern Gulf Coast and life-threatening storm surge of up to 13 feet.
Florida officials said roughly 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast had been urged or ordered to evacuate. Evacuations spanned 22 counties from the Florida Panhandle into north central Florida. But fears lingered that some failed to heed the calls to get out of Michael’s way as the hard-charging storm began speeding north over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Worried meteorologists said it had the potential of becoming one of the worst storms in the history of Florida’s Panhandle.
“I guess it’s the worst case scenario. I don’t think anyone would have experienced this in the Panhandle,” meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com told The Associated Press. “This is going to have structure damaging winds along the coast and hurricane force winds inland.”
University of Georgia’s Marshall Shepherd, a former president of the American Meteorological Society, called it a “life-altering event” on Facebook and said he watched the storm’s growth on satellite images with a pit growing in his stomach.
Franklin County (Fla.) Sheriff A.J. Smith near the vulnerable coast said his deputies had gone door to door in some places urging people to evacuate. “We have done everything we can as far as getting the word out,” Smith said. “Hopefully more people will leave.”
On the exposed coast of Florida’s Big Bend, most of the waterfront homes in Keaton Beach stood vacant amid fears of a life-threatening storm surge in an area that hadn’t seen a potentially catastrophic major hurricane in decades. Even so, 77-year-old resident Robert Sadousky wasn’t quite ready to evacuate yet.
The retired mill worker has spent more than half his life on the coast and weathered his share of storms. He chose the spot where his house stands on tall stilts overlooking the Gulf waters in 1972 after it was the only lot left dry after a storm flooded the beach that year.
While most homes around him are vacation rentals or summer getaways for their owners, Sadousky had stayed put through more than four decades of storms. No longer. Michael was expected to bring surging seas up 9 feet above ground level at Keaton Beach.
“I know it’s going to cover everything around here,” Sadousky said Tuesday, eyeing water lapping at the edge of a canal behind his home. He pulled two small boat docks from the water, packed his pickup and picked some beans from his garden before getting out — like hundreds of thousands elsewhere.
At noon, the center of the hurricane was bearing down on a stretch of the Florida Panhandle, still about 140 miles from Panama City and 130 miles from Apalachicola, but moving relatively fast at 13 mph with sustained winds of 150 mph and gusts of up to 175 mph.
Tropical-storm force winds extending 185 miles from the center were already lashing the coast. Some additional strengthening is possible today before Michael makes landfall in the Florida Panhandle or the Florida Big Bend area. Weakening is expected after the storm makes landfall.
“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 to safety into Alabama with their two children, ages 5 and 7. “We want to get them out of the way.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned it was a “monstrous hurricane,” and his Democratic opponent for the Senate, Sen. Bill Nelson, said a “wall of water” could cause destruction along the Panhandle.
“Don’t think that you can ride this out if you’re in a low-lying area,” Nelson said on CNN.
But some officials were worried by what they weren’t seeing — a rush of evacuees.
“I am not seeing the level of traffic on the roadways that I would expect when we’ve called for the evacuation of 75 percent of this county,” Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said.
In the dangerously exposed coastal town of Apalachicola, population 2,500, Sally Crown planned to go home and hunker down with her two dogs.
“We’ve been through this before,” she said. “This might be really bad and serious. But in my experience, it’s always blown way out of proportion.”
Mandatory evacuation orders went into effect in Panama City Beach and other low-lying areas in the storm’s path. That included Pensacola Beach but not in Pensacola itself, a city of about 54,000.
Michael could dump up to a foot 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 3 to 6 inches of rain to Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia, triggering flash flooding in a corner of the country still recovering from Florence. And isolated tornadoes were also possible.
Lush reported from St. Petersburg, Florida. Associated Press writers Russ Bynum in Keaton Beach, Florida, Jay Reeves in Panama City Beach, Florida, Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina and Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland, contributed to this report.