Hurricane Michael coverage: Storm grows into Category 4 as it nears Florida

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Hurricane Michael became a Category 4 storm early Wednesday morning several hours before it is expected to make landfall along the Florida Panhandle.

Around 6 a.m., the National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm had maximum winds of 105 mph with gusts of 165 mph.

It was located 140 miles south-southwest of Panama City, Florida, moving north at 13 mph.

Estimated timeline of the storm

Around 1 p.m.: Michael makes landfall near Panama City

Wednesday night/Thursday morning: Storm pushes though Georgia

2 p.m. Thursday: Michael moves through South Carolina into North Carolina

2 a.m. Friday: Storm pushes back out to the Atlantic

Officials said Michael will push life-threatening storm surge onto parts of the Gulf Coast during the day Wednesday, bringing with it dangerous winds and heavy rains.

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Though the storm is expected to weaken once it heads inland over the U.S., tropical storm watches and warnings are in place along a stretch of the Atlantic seaboard in a region from northeast Florida to North Carolina.

Authorities in Florida’s Citrus County said they’ve ordered a mandatory evacuation affecting more than 17,000 people along the Gulf Coast as Hurricane Michael approaches.

Also ordered to leave the county Tuesday: anyone staying in an RV, mobile home or manufactured home throughout the county.

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Based on the responses of officials in even Florida counties, approximately 279,200 people have been affected by mandatory or voluntary evacuations as they seek to get away from Michael’s projected path.

While Florence took five days between the time it turned into a hurricane and the moment it rolled into the Carolinas, Michael gave Florida what amounted to two days’ notice. It developed into a hurricane on Monday, and by Tuesday, at least 120,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders.

The storm will weaken as it tracks toward North Carolina, but it will still bring heavy rain on Thursday.

Gov. Roy Cooper spoke Tuesday about preparations that were in place for when Michael begins dropping rain on North Carolina. “Because of the damage caused by Hurricane Florence and the fact that there’s still some standing water in places, we have to be that much more alert about the damage Hurricane Michael could do,” he said.

He warned that Michael is expected to bring tropical-force winds and 2-5 inches of rain across much of the state. While the storm wasn’t expected to cause major river flooding as Florence did, he urged people to stay vigilant.

“I know people are fatigued from Florence, but don’t let this storm catch you with your guard down,” Cooper said.

The state hasn’t provided a detailed damage estimate, but it’s clear Florence affected thousands of homes. More than 24,000 homeowners and renters have received FEMA housing assistance. Some hard-hit public schools remain closed, such as in coastal Pender County, where the school system announced Monday it would not reopen before Oct. 18.

Those who experienced flooding from Florence are encouraged to sign up for e-mail and text flood alerts, which can be done by clicking this link.

In the Triangle, rain chances go up Wednesday, but Thursday will be the wettest day of the week. This timing could change if the storm slows down.

That much rain could cause some problems as the ground is still rather wet, especially in the Sandhills.

Likely, the onset of the rain will infiltrate into the soil with no problem, but after an inch or so, runoff is possible.

The Weather Prediction Center has about 1-3” of rain falling across our area with a few areas getting as much as 4″. This could cause flash flooding especially since the ground is still saturated from Florence.

Timing and rainfall amounts will be fine-tuned as we get closer to the event. Unfortunately, the first day of the North Carolina State Fair could be rather wet.

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The rain clears out Friday morning as a cold front sweeps the storm out to sea.

After the storm moves past, much cooler and drier air moves in and it will finally feel like autumn!

The good news is that Michael will move faster than Florence did, thanks to the jet stream and the aforementioned strong cold front.

Keep in mind that the latest predictions are based on the current track of the storm, timing and local impacts could change.

(Copyright ©2018 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved – The Associated Press contributed to this report.)