Hurricane Michael has crashed into the Florida Panhandle with winds up to 250 kilometres per hour and the potential for a devastating storm surge from what was expected to be the worst storm ever recorded in the region. It was downgraded to a Category 1 storm, with top sustained winds diminishing to 75 miles per hour (120 kph), about nine hours after it made landfall.
Governors and local officials have authority to issue mandatory evacuation orders when public safety is at stake.
"You can not hide from storm surge".
Forming near the Yucatan Peninsula on Sunday and having first appeared on radars just a day prior, Hurricane Michael is now situated 80 miles south-southwest of Panama City, Florida, where it is set to make landfall, and is moving northward.
"This came out of nowhere, developed on a weekend so it didn't really get much attention at all until basically yesterday", he said.
A NOAA satellite caught this view of Hurricane Michael approaching Florida.
"It's going to be awful", Thomas told CNN.
While eyes in space watch the risky storm from above, cameras on the ground are tracking the hurricane's impending landfall for live internet viewing.
President Donald Trump has been in touch with state governors and said a federal emergency team is standing by and ready to help with storm recovery.
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The winds were so strong they brought down a billboard in Florida's Panama City, tore down a Texaco gas pumping station canopy in Inlet Beach, and the storm surge completely knocked a house of its foundations in Mexico Beach. That sort of timetable can make evacuations more hard to manage.
Meanwhile, tropical storm warnings were in effect for parts of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
"This situation has NEVER happened before", it said on Twitter.
"Going back through records to 1851 we can't find another Cat 4 in this area, so this is unfortunately a historical and incredibly unsafe and life-threatening situation", he said.
Up to 12 inches of rain could fall in Florida's Panhandle and Big Bend areas, as well as southeastern Alabama and southern Georgia.
Position: The hurricane was about 120 miles southwest of Panama City, Florida, as of 6 a.m. ET this morning, per CNN.
The Carolinas are still recovering from Hurricane Florence, which left dozens dead and is estimated to have caused billions of dollars in damage last month.
Past year saw a string of catastrophic storms batter the western Atlantic - including Irma, Maria and Harvey, which caused a record-equaling $125 billion in damage when it flooded the Houston metropolitan area.
Though wind speed is the basis for hurricane categories, central pressure is actually a better measure of damage that a hurricane will cause, a study published a year ago in the journal Nature Communications found. The planet has warmed significantly over the past several decades, causing changes in the environment. Wind damage was also evident.