Hurricane Michael was officially upgraded to a Category 3 system Tuesday afternoon, hours after a state of emergency was declared for 92 Georgia counties that could experience hurricane-force winds and life-threatening flash flooding over the next several days.
With the Category 3 designation by the National Hurricane Center, Michael became a “major hurricane” with winds of 125 mph and an expected Wednesday landfall. The National Hurricane Center projects it will be a Category 4 storm by the time it makes landfall.
The seven-day emergency declaration includes Columbus, Macon, Augusta, Savannah and all areas south of those cities.
“The state is mobilizing all available resources to ensure public safety ahead of Hurricane Michael,” Gov. Nathan Deal said in a statement. “In light of the storm’s forecasted track, I encourage Georgians in the affected counties to be prepared and remain vigilant.”
As of 11 p.m., Michael was approximately 220 miles south of Panama City, Fla., the NHC said.
Michael is now stronger than Hurricane Florence was when it made landfall in North Carolina last month, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Mandatory evacuations are underway for many communities along the Florida coast as the center of Hurricane Michael churns through the southern Gulf of Mexico and continues to pick up steam.
“If you aren’t prepared,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said on Twitter, “you are running out of time.”
Michael is forecast to move northeast into Georgia on Wednesday night as a tropical storm.
Since noon Tuesday, “we've seen a well-defined eye develop,” Channel 2 meteorologist Brad Nitz said. “This has really taken on the structure of a very formidable hurricane.”
According to an executive order signed by Deal, the storm could have “significant inland impacts.” The state may face a shortage of petroleum products, food and other necessary emergency materials.
“We think we are ready,” Deal told Channel 2, adding that “Mother Nature can sometimes do strange things to us.”
Heavy rain, winds of 40-60 mph, severe storms, tornadoes and flooding are possible, especially in the southeast portion of the state.
Georgia Power is monitoring the hurricane and adjusting its response plans accordingly, a spokeswoman said.
Hurricane and tropical storm warnings and tropical storm watches have been issued for parts of South Georgia, and several southeast Georgia counties are under a flash flood watch. Nearly 30 counties in southwest Georgia are under a moderate flooding rain threat, and many face high or extreme wind threats, according to the National Weather Service.
Regardless of its path, Channel 2 meteorologist Karen Minton said the storm will bring plenty of rain across the state. The heaviest rain is expected south and east of Atlanta with 3 to 5 inches of accumulation. Some spots could see as much as 6 to 7 inches, she said.
There will be much less rain northwest of Atlanta on Wednesday and Thursday, but most of the state should get at least an inch, according to Channel 2.
The Florida coast is at highest risk for flooding and life-threatening storm surge. Storm surges could reach catastrophic levels for many communities along the Florida coast, Scott told Good Morning America.
"The potential of 12 feet of storm surge in some areas is just deadly," he said.
In addition to Georgia, states of emergency have been declared in parts of Florida and Alabama. Warnings are in effect for more than 300 miles of gulf coastline, according to the Hurricane Center.
About 120,000 people along the Florida Panhandle were ordered to clear out Tuesday, The Associated Press reported.
The Georgia Department of Transportation urged drivers evacuating the storm to avoid congested interstate highways. Officials said evacuees should think about going west of the storm’s path, not just north, and consult Georgia’s 511 information system to find the best route.
Atlanta Motor Speedway announced Tuesday it is opening its campgrounds to evacuees. Basic RV and tent camp spots are available free of charge.
Those evacuating also have the opportunity for a free stay through Airbnb, the company announced Tuesday.
Unlike Florence, which inched over the Carolinas and dumped record-breaking rainfall on some areas, Michael is expected to move quickly across the Southeast.
Michael is also expected to be less destructive to Georgia than Hurricane Irma, which ravaged Georgia, Florida and the Caribbean last year, Nitz said.
» For a detailed forecast, visit The Atlanta Journal-Constitution weather page.
» Download The Atlanta Journal-Constitution app for weather alerts on-the-go.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.
Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.