Evacuations ordered as Florida braces for Hurricane Michael

Enhanced infrared satellite loop of Hurricane Michael about to enter the Gulf of Mexico

Enhanced infrared satellite loop of Hurricane Michael about to enter the Gulf of Mexico

"Impacts from Hurricane Michael along the Florida Panhandle will include a risky storm surge, flooding rainfall and damaging winds". Later in the day, its sustained winds topped 90 miles per hour, with stronger gusts.

Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in 35 Florida counties.

Michael is expected to intensify into a category 3 storm, a major hurricane, before making landfall near Panama City, Florida.

With the ground saturated from Hurricane Florence, inland flooding is also predicted.

Ray Martin, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said heavy rain from Michael poses the greatest threat to Maryland.

A Hurricane Watch is in effect for Alabama-Florida border to Suwannee River Florida. "You have some time tomorrow, but [as] you start looking at tomorrow night into Wednesday, things start to deteriorate rapidly".

While Michael remained a tropical storm throughout the weekend, the system reached hurricane status on Monday as a Category 1 with nowhere left to go but up.

"If this storm hits near Panama City, the Tampa area will still see life threatening storm surge", Scott said.

Michael, a Category 1 hurricane on Monday, was predicted to strengthen to a Category 3 major hurricane by Wednesday, with winds at least 111 miles per hour.

"This is a part of the Gulf of Mexico that is incredibly vulnerable to storm surge", Graham said.

Michael is moving north at 12mph and, after hitting Florida, it is expected to move up the east coast on Wednesday and Thursday, into North and SC.

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan warned residents during a news conference Monday evening that first responders won't be able to reach them during the storm or immediately after.

"This storm will be life-threatening and extremely unsafe", Scott said Sunday following a briefing at the State Emergency Operations Center.

The storm could bring up to 12 inches of rainfall and is expected to make landfall as a category three hurricane on Wednesday morning.

Authorities earlier ordered residents of northwest Florida to leave their homes ahead of Hurricane Michael.

More than 45 per cent of the nation's refining capacity is located along the US Gulf Coast, which also is home to 51 per cent of total US natural gas processing capability.

Tolls were being suspended in the state's northwest region to ease the evacuation process, and the Florida Highway Patrol is sending almost 350 state troopers to the Panhandle and Big Bend areas, Scott said. "There's nothing between us and this storm but warm water and I think that's what terrifies us about the potential impacts".

A statement from Ivey's office warns of possible wide-spread power outages, wind damage and debris as the result of high winds and heavy rain.

"You can't survive storm surge", he said.