Hurricane Michael howled closer to Florida’s Gulf shore on Tuesday as a major Category 3 storm, and half a million coastal residents were urged to seek higher ground on the eve of a landfall forecast to bring towering waves and roof-shredding winds.
Michael is projected to plow into Florida’s Panhandle at midday on Wednesday, unleashing potentially devastating waves as high as 13 feet (4 meters) that could rush inland for miles around the storm’s center, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned.
By late Tuesday, Michael was causing major disruptions to U.S. oil and gas production as it churned north, gathering greater strength over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Florida, freeing up federal assistance to supplement state and local disaster response.
The NHC said the storm was packing sustained winds of up to 120 miles per hour (195 km per hour), jumping from a Category 2 to Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson wind scale.
Winds of that magnitude can inflict substantial damage to roofs and walls of even well-constructed homes, according to the National Weather Service.
NHC 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.