Michael upgraded to a Category 3 major hurricane with 120 miles per hour winds

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Additional strengthening is expected, and Michael is forecast to be a major hurricane at landfall on the panhandle of Florida Wednesday.

The National Weather Service is now warning that Michael is a "potentially catastrophic" weather event, which could result in "the strongest hurricane to landfall" upon Florida's Panhandle in over a decade. The brunt of the storm will hit the Florida Panhandle and continue through Georgia and South Carolina Thursday before hitting central South Carolina and central North Carolina.

Michael, now a Category 2 storm with winds of 110 miles per hour, is expected to become a Category 3 hurricane with 111 miles per hour winds later on Tuesday.

Although Michael's core is just 375 miles west of Fort Lauderdale, that's far enough to buffer us from the hurricane.

Each line is a different forecast model projection for the track of Michael later this week. "As Hurricane Michael nears landfall, we are working with state and local officials in Florida to take all necessary precautions", Trump said Monday.

Michael has been lashing western Cuba as it churned toward the United States. Most of the rain was blamed on a low-pressure system off the Pacific coast of El Salvador.

In Florida, Scott declared a state of emergency for 35 counties, from the Panhandle to Tampa Bay, activated hundreds of Florida National Guard members and waived tolls to encourage evacuations.

Scott also told caregivers at north Florida hospitals and nursing homes to do all they can to assure the safety of the elderly and infirm.

The NHC said some areas of the Florida coast could expect storm surge of nine to 13 feet, and as much as a foot of rain.

Michael is expected to be the strongest hurricane, based on wind speeds, to make landfall in the continental U.S. since Irma in September of a year ago.

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The Florida Disaster website on October 9 said that parts or all of Bay County, Citrus County, Franklin County, Dixie County, Gulf County, Jackson County, Levy County, Okaloosa County, Taylor County, Wakulla County, and Walton County have been issued mandatory evacuation orders.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Florida's Democratic nominee for governor, had planned to campaign in South Florida on Monday and Tuesday, but instead threw himself into helping his city's residents fill sandbags and make other preparations.

"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 into Alabama with their two children, ages 5 and 7.

Both NOAA and Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft have flown through the hurricane's four quadrants - and the NHC says, "The planes actually passed through the eye around the same time [Tuesday morning], and reported that they could see one another".

Panhandle in more than a decade. Many filled sandbags and boarded up homes and lined up to buy gas and groceries before leaving town.

The hurricane has undergone a period of "rapid intensification", defined as a 35 mph increase in sustained winds over a 24-hour period. With Michael's winds projected to be even stronger, residents there were urged to evacuate inland. Since the ground remains saturated in places, that could mean flash flooding, and trees in wet ground can topple more easily in high winds.

"There's nothing between us and this storm but warm water, and I think that's what terrifies us about the potential impacts", Gillum said.

In Alabama, where residents may see massive power outages, high winds and heavy rain, Gov. Kay Ivey issued a state of emergency statewide. Forecasters also warned spinoff tornadoes would also be a threat.

Drawing energy from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the storm strengthened rapidly into a potentially devastating Category 3 by evening.

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