As with many similar mega-storms in this age of climate change and extreme weather, an "ominous" Hurricane Michael is heading for U.S. landfall on Wednesday alongside grave warnings of destruction with weather experts and government officials raising last-minute alarms for people to seek shelter or flee vulnerable areas before the storm hits.
The National Hurricane Center said the powerful storm—officially upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane overnight with sustained winds of up to 140 mph and gusts of 185 mph—is expected to move across the northeastern Gulf of Mexico before making landfall in the Panhandle region of Florida in the afternoon, and then sweep inland to the northeast.
"We have a pit in our stomachs," National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said on Wednesday morning discussing the storm's approach on the Weather Channel.
"Hurricane Michael is a monstrous storm. The forecast keeps getting more dangerous," said Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday as he urged all residents in the storm's path to evacuate or seek safe shelter.
Outside experts and meteorologists added their concerns over the strength of the storm, especially as it gathered power ahead of landfall:
This is the real deal. Hurricanes that intensify overnight just before reaching land are the worst nightmare of forecasters and emergency managers. https://t.co/AbatBRrNRI
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— Bob Henson (@bhensonweather) October 10, 2018
Hurricane #Michael -- now one of the strongest hurricanes ever to threaten Florida -- is THE SIZE of Florida.
— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) October 10, 2018
Exceptionally serious scenario unfolding this morning with #Michael as an intensifying category 4 #hurricane headed toward the coast - no one in that area has ever experienced a hurricane this strong there pic.twitter.com/TQfZBUAmAV
— Eric Blake (@EricBlake12) October 10, 2018
#Michael is now a fierce Category 4 hurricane, with top sustained winds of 130 mph. It may strengthen even further before landfall. No Cat 4 landfall has occurred in the Florida Panhandle in 167 years of recordkeeping. https://t.co/hbdraUzrT2 pic.twitter.com/JFe4Hh3UlX
— Weather Underground (@wunderground) October 10, 2018