BREAKING: Michael reaches Category 3 strength with 120 mph winds

UPDATE 5 p.m.: Hurricane Michael has gained Category 3 strength with 120 mph winds.

As of the 5 p.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Michael was 295 miles south of Panama City moving north at 12 mph.

The storm, which is forecast to hit the Panhandle between Fort Walton Beach and the Big Bend region Wednesday afternoon, is expected to intensify to 125 mph before landfall. A Category 3 storm has winds between 111 and 129 mph.

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

Nadine, which is no threat to land, is notable as the 14th named storm this hurricane season, which was forecast to have less activity than during a normal year. An average hurricane season has 12 named storms.

The 11 a.m. advisory for Hurricane Michael shows it is up to a 110-mph Category 2 hurricane – one mile below a Category 3.

The forecast for Hurricane Michael changed little overnight with the National Hurricane Center having it make landfall between Fort Walton Beach and the Big Bend region tomorrow.

As of the 8 a.m. advisory, Michael was 395 miles south of Panama City, moving north-northwest at 12 mph.

Michael is forecast to reach the Panhandle as a major Category 3 hurricane on Wednesday with 125 mph winds. That’s just 4 miles below a Category 4 storm.

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“It seems like it’s coming right for us. I live four to five blocks from the water, so I’m scared,” said Tessa Whitaker, who lives in Carabelle, a city on St. George Sound about an hour southwest of Tallahassee. “People are boarding up and buying a lot of ice and hot dogs and liquor.”

Michael is the 13th named storm of the 2018 hurricane season and the seventh hurricane.

Storm surge from Hurricane Michael is forecast to be higher than 9 feet and up to 12 feet in some areas of the Big Bend region of Florida.

Storm surge that could be greater than 6 feet is forecast as far south as Crystal River with more than 9 feet into Apalachicola Bay.

“You could see storm surge 10 to 12 miles inland,” said National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham. “If you live along some of these rivers, you have to think the waters are going to come up there. Even inland, you’ve got to be prepared.”

If it makes landfall as a Category 3 it will be the first major hurricane to hit the Panhandle since Hurricane Dennis came ashore near Pensacola on July 10, 2005 with 130 mph winds.

The most recent October landfalling hurricane in the Florida Panhandle was Hurricane Opal — a Category 3 storm in 1995.

In the far eastern Atlantic, Tropical Depression 15 has also formed.

The system, which would be named Nadine, if it becomes a tropical storm, is no threat to land.

Since 1851, Florida has had 36 hurricanes make October landfalls, including 10 major hurricanes. That’s five times higher than runner-up Louisiana, which has experienced seven October hurricane hits, including three major hurricanes, according to National Hurricane Center records.

The most recent major October hurricane to hit Florida was 2005’s Wilma.

“This has been different from a lot of the storms we’ve seen since I’ve been governor,” said Gov. Rick Scott. “It’s fast, this is coming very fast. It could speed up. It could slow down. We don’t know. And we don’t know exactly where it’s going to hit yet.”

October storms typically form in the Caribbean and are most likely to track into southwest Florida, taking paths similar to Wilma, which hit near Cape Romano south of Marco Island.

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The clockwise churn of an area of high pressure centered over Delaware is what’s keeping Michael on a more northerly path toward the Panhandle and away from South Florida, said AccuWeather senior hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski.

After landfall, a cold front traveling across the U.S. is expected to pick Michael up and take it through Georgia and the Carolinas.

“When you look at computer models, Michael will either be a strong Category 2 or low Category 3, but it doesn’t really make a difference if you are talking 5 knots,” Kottlowski said. “If it doesn’t reach Category 3 but has 110 mph winds, it’s still going to be a bad storm.”

Michael is forecast to remain a tropical storm as it cuts through Georgia, the Carolinas and southeast Virginia.

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