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Hurricane Michael is heading to Florida and the Southeast. Here’s what we know.

The storm is expected to intensify before making landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast Wednesday.

Hurricane Michael is expected to impact Florida Wednesday.
NOAA GOES

Hurricane season isn’t over yet.

Hurricane Michael, a storm that spun up in the Atlantic over the past several days, is currently expected to intensify as it travels across the Gulf of Mexico toward Florida.

Forecasters now expect the storm to hit Florida’s northern Gulf Coast — the Panhandle and surrounding areas — by Wednesday afternoon. But tropical storm force winds will arrive by Tuesday night.

The storm is currently a Category 3 — a.k.a. a “major hurricane” — with winds currently blowing at 130 mph. The National Hurricane Center has issued hurricane warnings — meaning hurricane conditions are imminent — for much of the Florida Gulf Coast and parts of Alabama and Mississippi’s coast.

Don’t pay too much mind to the category rating. Hurricanes are dangerous regardless of their exact windspeed because they can push deadly storm surge ashore and inundate areas with rain.

“Regardless of the eventual track and intensity of Michael, life-threatening storm surge inundation is expected along portions of the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend/Nature Coast,” the National Hurricane Center warns.

To prepare, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, declared a state of emergency for many counties and ordered 500 members of the National Guard to activate. Storm surge (i.e., coastal flooding, often the deadliest aspect of a hurricane) is expected to top 9 to 13 feet in some areas (see the map below). The storm is also expected to pass through Tallahassee, the state’s capital with a population of 382,000. Evacuations along the panhandle — where the worst storm surge is expected — are currently underway.

It’s unclear right now how bad the storm will be. But generally, forecasters are better at predicting a hurricane’s path than its intensity. Michael could be stronger or weaker than forecast. But what’s important is to see where it’s heading, and make preparations if you’re in harm’s way.

Here’s the latest forecast track from the National Hurricane Center:

And here’s the forecast for the arrival of tropical storm-force winds. They’ll begin by Tuesday evening:

Here’s the forecast for rainfall potential. A large swath of the Southeast could see 6 to 10 inches.

The Carolinas and Georgia may see flash flooding as the storm passes through.

A storm surge warning is in effect for much of the Gulf coastline

Check out this interactive map on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website to see preliminarily storm surge predictions for specific communities.

The surge, or coastal flooding, tends to be the deadliest aspect of hurricanes. As wind from the storm pushes water onshore several feet above the normal tide, it can trap people in their homes, wash away entire houses, and make rescue missions harrowing and slow.

Some areas may see storm surges in excess of 13 feet. That’s 13 feet of water on top of the normal high tide. “This is a life-threatening situation,” the Weather Service warns. “The worst storm surge is expected between Mexico Beach and Keaton Beach, where 9 to 13 feet of inundation is possible.”

Lastly, here are the key messages the National Hurricane Center wants you to know about the storm:

1. Life-threatening storm surge is likely along portions of the coasts of the Florida Panhandle, Big Bend, and Nature Coast, where a storm surge warning is in effect. The worst storm surge is expected between Mexico Beach and Keaton Beach, where 9 to 13 feet of inundation is possible. Water levels will rise well in advance of the center of Michael, and residents within the storm surge warning area should finish preparations to protect life and property today.

2. Everyone in the hurricane warning area along the Florida Gulf Coast should prepare for life-threatening major hurricane winds associated with the core of Michael. Hurricane force winds will also extend well inland across portions of the Florida Panhandle, southern Georgia, and southeast Alabama as Michael moves inland.

3. Heavy rainfall from Michael could produce life-threatening flash flooding from the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend region into portions of Georgia, the Carolinas, and southeast Virginia.

4. Tropical storm conditions will likely affect portions of the southeast U.S. coast from northeast Florida through North Carolina, and tropical storm watches and warnings have been issued for these

As with all hurricanes, Michael is a potentially deadly situation. It’s also likely that after the storm crosses Florida, it will impact Southeastern Atlantic states like Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and North Carolina, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence. So keep an eye on it.

A chart describing storms labeled Category 1 (winds up to 95 miles per hour, isolated injuries) through Category 5 (winds above 155 mph, extreme flooding). Zachary Crockett/Vox

How to follow Michael

  • The National Hurricane Center has a page updating every few hours with the latest watches and warnings for Florence. Check it out.
  • Follow the National Hurricane Center on Twitter; it will keep you up to date with all the latest forecasts, hazards, and warnings.
  • Follow the Capital Weather Gang’s Twitter account. These folks tend to live-tweet storm updates.
  • Here’s a Twitter list of weather experts and local Florida officials via meteorologist Matt Lanza. These experts will give you up-to-the-second forecasts and warnings.