Hurricane Michael, currently bearing down on the Florida Panhandle, is projected to make landfall Wednesday as a Category 3, according to the National Hurricane Center—possibly the strongest storm to hit the region in decades.
Parts of Florida’s northern Gulf Coast have been placed under mandatory evacuation orders, and Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas are preparing to be buffeted by the storm’s remnants Wednesday night and Thursday. Michael strengthened to a Category 2 hurricane on Tuesday, with top winds of 110 miles per hour. It is projected to be the strongest—but not largest—storm to hit the mainland U.S. this year.
“Hurricane Michael is a monstrous storm, and the forecast keeps getting more dangerous,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said at a morning news conference Tuesday. “This storm will be life-threatening and extremely dangerous.”
Already authorities are warning of life-threatening storm surges, and the National Hurricane Center has warned that the surge could reach as high as 12 feet along parts of the Florida coast. At that height, coastal homes would be completely inundated.
Southeastern Alabama and southwestern Georgia also face hurricane conditions, and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared an emergency Tuesday for 92 of the state’s counties, following Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s declaration Monday. Scott had previously declared a state of emergency for 35 counties.
The storm is projected to swing northeast as a weakened storm Wednesday night and Thursday, depositing up to 6 inches of rain as far north as the Carolinas and southern Virginia. The risk of life-threatening flash floods feels particularly ominous in the Carolinas, where the ground is still saturated and where residents are still recovering from flooding from Hurricane Florence. Tarp-covered roofs and other temporary solutions to Florence’s damage could fail under heavy winds and rains.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Florida authorities have not expressed as much urgency about the storm’s dangers as they did last year with Hurricane Irma, which hit farther to the South. But Scott is still warning residents to evacuate, in part because shelters in some areas were not built to stand up to major hurricanes, according to the Associated Press.
On Tuesday, before the announcement of Nikki Haley’s resignation as ambassador, Trump told reporters that “we’re very well prepared” for Michael. The storm had come as a relative surprise, intensifying rapidly over the past two days.