As of Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. ET, the storm had sustained winds of 150 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center, making it a major, Category 4 hurricane. After ravaging the Keys, the storm moved north off the western coast of Florida before turning inland.
Some 120,000 people have been warned to evacuate along Florida's coast, where schools and state offices are to remain shut this week. A storm with that power hasn't struck the Florida Panhandle since Hurricane Dennis in 2005. One resident said she rode out Opal and while she is prepared, she also is not going anywhere.
But Kottlowski noted that meteorologists are still analyzing Hurricane Michael, and it's possible that it will be retroactively upgraded to Category 5 status based on wind speeds.
"Hurricane Michael is forecast to be the most destructive hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle in a century", Governor Rick Scott told reporters, speaking about seven hours before Michael was expected to make landfall.
Michael formed quickly, only reaching hurricane strength on Monday, giving Floridians little time to prepare.
Based on its internal barometric pressure, Michael was the most powerful hurricane to blow ashore on the U.S. mainland since Camille in 1969.
Bottomline - Petro says Eastern and Central Carolina need to take Hurricane Michael seriously. 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.
The hurricane was set to make landfall later on Wednesday on Florida's Panhandle and could drive sea water levels as high as 14 feet above normal in some areas, the center said.
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The National Hurricane Centre has described the life-threatening winds and heavy rainfall as "potentially catastrophic".
Even if Michael wasn't making landfall in a particularly vulnerable section of USA coastline, it would be an unrecoverable storm for many families.
Most hurricanes are good at producing tornadoes because they cause a lot of vertical shear - or differences in wind direction and speed at different heights.
At Tyndall Air Force Base south of Panama City leaders declared HURCON (Hurricane Condition) 1 status, ordering out all but essential personnel, after some 600 military families appeared squarely targeted for the worst of the storm's fury. This risk will spread northward into parts of Georgia and southern SC this afternoon and tonight.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Michael is now predicted to reach a level close to category 4 when it hits the U.S. state of Florida on Wednesday.
As of 5 a.m. ET on Wednesday, the hurricane's eye was 140 miles from Panama City, Florida. According to The Weather Channel, no Category 4 hurricane in historical records dating back to 1851 has ever made landfall in the region.
Officials are expecting up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain, with some areas receiving 12 inches (30 centimeters).