Hurricane Michael Will Be 'Worst in Florida History,' Experts Warn
Hurricane upgraded to 'extremely dangerous' category four storm, will make landfall today
Forecasters are warning that the "extremely dangerous" Hurricane Michael will be the worst storm to hit Florida in the state's recorded history.
Michael has been officially declared a category four storm by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) after being upgraded from a Tropical Storm.
Experts predict Hurricane Michael will make landfall in Florida at midday local time (Eastern time).
Forecasters warn that life-threatening storm surge, hurricane force winds, and heavy rainfall are expected along the Northwestern Gulf Coast.
The NHC says Michael may strengthen even further before it makes landfall, despite already packing winds of 130mph.
According to Sky News, around 375,000 people across the Gulf Coast have been urged or ordered to evacuate their homes - with the state's white-sand beaches, fishing villages and coastal communities at risk of destruction.
The hurricane is continuing to gain in size - and forecasters have warned that Michael has the potential to be one of the worst storms in the region's history.
According to the NHC, potentially devastating waves as high as 4m (13ft) are possible and could rush inland for miles.
NHC director Ken Graham said Michael represented a "textbook case" of a hurricane system growing stronger as it drew near shore - a stark contrast to Hurricane Florence, which struck the Carolinas last month after weakening.
Up to 30cm (1ft) of rainfall is forecast for some of the areas in Michael's path - with Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas all warned to expect prodigious amounts of rain.
US President Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency for the whole of Florida, with the state's governor Rick Scott declaring Michael could be "the most deadly, destructive storm to the Panhandle in decades."
Mr. Scot added: "If you don't follow warnings from officials this storm could kill you."
There have been concerns that many Floridians have shown a lack of urgency in following the evacuation orders.
Bay County sheriff Tommy Ford said: "I am not seeing the level of traffic on the roadways that I would expect when we've called for the evacuation of 75% of this county."
A Storm Surge Warning remains in effect for much of the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend region, where life-threatening storm surge is expected today. Storm surge inundation could reach 9 to 13 feet above ground level between Tyndall Air Force Base and Keaton Beach FL @NHC_Surge pic.twitter.com/7GZU8Ceq3y— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) October 10, 2018
Emergency services have warned those who stay may be on their own if things go badly.
Panama City Beach fire department chief Larry Couch said: "If they decide to stay, there will be a point where we can't get to them.
"We will shut down operations at a certain point and when we do that, they're on their own."
Americans in the region are being urged to brace for "major infrastructure damage" to electricity lines, wastewater treatment facilities and transportation networks.
Offshore energy production has already been affected - with US producers in the Gulf cutting oil production by about 40% on Tuesday.
Approximately 2,500 National Guard troops have been deployed to assist with evacuations and storm preparations, and more than 4,000 others are on standby.
Thirteen people died in Central America as Michael battered the region with rain and winds of up to 85mph.
The last major hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle, the term used to describe northwestern parts of the state, was Hurricane Dennis in 2005.