Forecasters: Michael quickly closing in on Category 3 hurricane

Waves building off the coast of Cuba ahead of the arrival of hurricane Michael

Winds of tropical storm force will be felt in the area starting early Wednesday, and mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders already have been issued in at least 22 counties on the Florida Gulf Coast head of the storm.

The hurricane, now about 200 miles south-southwest of the state, moved up to category three late on Tuesday as it headed for the Florida Panhandle, the strip of land on the Gulf of Mexico.

Tens of thousands of Floridians were warned on Tuesday to get out of harm's way as Hurricane Michael churned over the Gulf of Mexico toward the northwestern part of the state, bringing fierce winds, torrential rain and life-threatening coastal floods.

The storm is expected to unleash coastal storm surges of up to 12 feet (3.7 meters) along Florida's Panhandle and dump as much as a foot (30 cm) of rain across Florida, Georgia and SC, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported. The most severe storm surge is predicted to occur from Mexico Beach to Keaton Beach, Florida, which could see as much 13 feet.

As the Panhandle braces for major Hurricane Michael, Tropical Storm Nadine has formed in the far eastern Atlantic.

If you live in the region Hurricane Michael will be passing through, you can check the latest forecasts and warnings at NOAA's National Hurricane Center. "We wish all our guests who are traveling back home a safe journey". Forecasters said Michael's storm winds stretched 370 miles across, with hurricane-strength winds extending up to 35 miles from the center.

Michael was forecast to have the power to uproot trees, block roads and knock out power for days by the time it hits Florida on Wednesday.

As the storm moved north it battered Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and western Cuba with drenching rains and winds of up to 130km/h, forecasters said.

Hurricane Warnings are in effect from the Alabama-Florida border to the Suwannee River, and a Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for Florida's west coast from the Suwannee River to Chassahowitzka.

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Hurricane Michael is now a major category 3 hurricane and is expected to reach category 4 by landfall.

Experts predict that Hurricane Michael could pose a similar threat, with storm surge and inland flooding from intense rainfall ultimately responsible for most of the damage and death.

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan bluntly advised residents choosing to ride it out that first-responders won't be able to reach them while Michael smashes into the coast.

The storm is expected to undergo rapid intensification again Tuesday.

"Were looking at a significant storm with significant impact, possibly greater than Ive seen in my 59 years of life".

The storm was located about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of Cuba's western tip and 520 miles (837 kilometers) south of Apalachicola, Florida.

He said: "We don't know if it's going to wipe out our house or not".

Florida Governor Rick Scott has issued a state of emergency for 26 counties. Areas east of Columbus, including central Georgia, are in a zone of 4 to 6 inches, with heavier amounts higher depending upon the location of persistent rain bands as remnants of Hurricane Michael move toward the northeast.

Speaking alongside emergency officials in Pasco County, Scott said Monday he's waiving tolls. With just a month to go before Election Day, voters were also given one more day to register to vote, once offices reopen after the storm. "The state is not taking this storm lightly and neither should any family". As such, he's declared a state of emergency in three dozen counties while ordering evacuations for 10 counties, including Panama City Beach.

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