Michael battered parts of Mexico and Cuba with powerful winds and drenching rain on Sunday and into early Monday (local time).
Michael is expected to reach major hurricane status on Wednesday as it approaches a landfall between Apalachicola and Pensacola, with 125 miles per hour winds, the National Hurricane Center said Tuesday in its 11 a.m. update.
The speed of the storm - Michael was moving north 12 mph (19 kph) - gave many people a dwindling number of hours to prepare or flee before being caught up in damaging wind and rain. Hurricane-force winds extend out up to 35 miles (55 kilometers) and tropical-storm-force winds outward about 175 miles (280 kilometers).
The agency's research oceanographer Kara Doran says wave heights in the open Gulf of Mexico are expected to reach as high as 40 feet (12 meters).
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. "We can rebuild your home, but we cannot rebuild your life", Scott said. "That's the criticality of following directions".
"If you're responsible for a patient, you're responsible for the patient". It's as simple as that.
Authorities told residents and tourists in at least 20 Florida counties to evacuate coastal areas along the 200-mile (322 km) long Panhandle and adjacent Big Bend region.
Hurricanes are violent storms that can bring devastation to coastal areas, threatening lives, homes and businesses. It never ends but we are all prepared and hopefully it won't be as bad as it's looking. "There's nothing between us and this storm but warm water' and I think that's what terrifies us about the potential impacts". Most of the rain was blamed on a low-pressure system off the Pacific coast, but Hurricane Michael in the Caribbean could have also contributed.
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Scott said the Florida Panhandle, southeast Alabama and southern Georgia will see 4 to 8 inches, with isolated areas facing 12 inches. Tropical storm warnings cover a further 3.1 million people in the three states. The governor has also warned that there is a "significant" chance of tornadoes.
Officially, the National Hurricane Center predicts the hurricane will come ashore with 125mph winds on Wednesday afternoon, but as always with the poorly understood intensification process, there remains some uncertainty.
He said that forecasters aren't expecting the same kind of major river flooding caused by Florence, and conditions should improve on Friday. The storm was centered about 30 miles off the western tip of Cuba, and about 520 miles south of Apalachicola.
Scott declared a state of emergency in 35 counties in Florida's Panhandle and Big Bend regions, mostly rural areas known for small tourist cities, beaches and wildlife reserves, and the state capital, Tallahassee.
A hurricane warning has been issued for the Alabama-Florida border to the Suwannee River, and a hurricane watch is in effect from the Alabama-Florida border to the Mississippi-Alabama border.
Speaking alongside emergency officials in Pasco County, Scott said Monday he's waiving tolls. Up to four inches (10 centimeters) were expected to fall through Tuesday.
Pasco, Hernando and Citrus Counties are under a Storm Surge Warning.
The center said Michael could reach land as a Category 3 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour. He repeatedly and forcefully urged state residents to evacuate with an intensity not seen Tuesday.