Hurricane Michael: Fast-moving storm expected to hit NC by morning

Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach on Wednesday afternoon as a strong Category 4 hurricane, but it weakened to a Category 3 storm. It's expected to reach North Carolina by Friday morning.

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Alfred Charles, online managing editor,
Deborah Strange, digital journalist
RALEIGH, N.C. — Hurricane Michael weakened to a Category 1 hurricane as it made its way across Georgia and toward the Carolinas on Wednesday evening. It had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, down from 155 mph when it hit land along the Florida Panhandle.

A downed tree in the Florida Panhandle killed one person.

The storm made landfall near Mexico Beach on Wednesday afternoon with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, 1 mph weaker than a Category 5 storm, WRAL meteorologist Kat Campbell said.

Top things to know about the storm:
  • Gov. Roy Cooper has placed North Carolina under a state of emergency.
  • Some North Carolina schools – including most of those in the Triangle – and businesses will be closed Thursday.
  • The Triangle could see 3-6 inches of rain in a short time, which could cause flash flooding.
  • Wind gusts could range between 30 and 60 mph, knocking down trees and power lines and causing widespread outages.
  • The National Weather Service expanded a tropical storm warning ahead of Hurricane Michael to include Wake and Durham counties.

The storm is expected to weaken as it moves north through the Southeast, but WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner said Triangle residents should take the storm seriously.

"For us, this storm is not going to be like Fran, Florence or Matthew," she said. "However, it is a storm we need to take seriously. This is an enormous storm."

WRAL meteorologist Aimee Wilmoth said the storm's local impacts will include:

  • Winds: Gusts up to 40-50mph, sustained 20-30 mph, Thursday.
  • Power outages: The greatest risk ranges from Thursday into Thursday night, and isolated outages are possible as trees fall.
  • River flooding: Moderate flooding is expected along eastern North Carolina rivers through the weekend.
  • Tornadoes: Isolated tornadoes are possible Thursday, especially southeast of the Triangle.
  • Localized flash flooding: Flash flooding is likely in spots through Thursday, with heaviest rain expected from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 3-6 inches possible.
Michael Stats

Several North Carolina counties still reeling from Florence, which raked the Tar Heel State last month, are not taking any chances with Hurricane Michael. Pender and Brunswick counties have declared a state of emergency. Public schools in Brunswick have been canceled for Thursday and Friday.

FEMA announced Wednesday afternoon that the Disaster Recovery Centers it opened in response to Hurricane Florence will be closed Thursday because of severe weather expected from Hurricane Michael. The centers will reopen 9 a.m. Friday, "weather permitting," FEMA said in a statement.

The North Carolina Zoo said it would be closed to the public Thursday to ensure the safety of animals in their care.

Several central North Carolina counties are under a tropical storm warning as Michael approaches.

"North Carolina is staring down another powerful hurricane less than a month after Florence battered our state," Cooper said during a news conference. "The last thing people cleaning up from Florence need is more wind and rain."

Cooper activated 150 North Carolina National Guard members to assist with storm response, and the state of emergency allows equipment to be staged in various areas for quick response during and after the storm.

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Gardner said rain and winds will arrive in the Triangle for Thursday and linger into the early-morning hours of Friday. She said it will bring winds that will fell trees and cause power outages. Gardner said flash flooding will also occur as the system moves through North Carolina.

"There will be some heavier pockets of wind gusts," she said. "That's going to knock down some trees.

On Friday, the storm will move out of North Carolina, and winds and rain will diminish.

"We'll have a much quieter weekend," Gardner said.

Michael crosses into Georgia as Category 3 storm

Authorities say a Florida Panhandle man was killed by a falling tree as Hurricane Michael tore through the state.

Gadsden County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Anglie Hightower says they received a call around 6 p.m. Wednesday, saying a tree had crashed through the roof of the man's Greenboro home and trapped him. Emergency crews were heading to the home, but downed power lines and blocked roads were making the trip difficult.

The National Hurricane Center said Michael's eye has crossed from the Florida Panhandle into southwestern Georgia as a dangerous Category 3 storm, the strongest to hit that part of the state in recorded history.

Maximum sustained winds of 115 mph (185 kph) were recorded in Seminole County, Georgia, Wednesday evening. The storm made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, as a catastrophic Category 4 hurricane earlier Wednesday afternoon.

According to a 6 p.m. advisory, the storm was located 20 miles (32 kilometers) west-northwest of Bainbridge, Georgia, and 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Albany, Georgia. It was moving north-northeast at 13 mph (21 kph).

Dangerous storm surge continues along the coast of the Florida Panhandle.

The Alabama Emergency Management Agency said that almost 3,000 people were without power in the state as of shortly after 3 p.m.

Some southeastern Alabama cities and counties instituted mandatory curfews to try to keep people at home.


Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio says he's particularly concerned about the storm blocking Interstate 10, which runs east-west across northern Florida through Pensacola, Tallahassee and Jacksonville.

Rubio told CNN on Wednesday that the highway will be a major route to bring in aid, and making sure it's clear of debris will be a priority.

Rubio says he also wants to see power returned to the affected areas as quickly as possible. In the past, many deaths have occurred in the days after a hurricane, with nursing homes residents being left without air conditioning or homeowners being exposed to carbon monoxide from generators.

A Red Cross official says it's possible that as many as 320,000 people on Florida's Gulf Coast did not evacuate and are likely riding out the storm.

Evacuation orders were sent by state and local officials to about 325,000 people. Emergency managers say they don't know how many left the area, but there were about 6,000 people in 80 shelters in five states, including nearly 1,200 who are still in shelters following Hurricane Florence.

Michael went from a tropical storm to a projected Category 3 hurricane in around six hours and could have caught thousands off guard.

Brad Kieserman is the Vice President of Operations and Logistics for the American Red Cross. He says the storm "intensified extremely quickly and didn't give anyone enough time to do much."

Local news reporters were working in the dark as Hurricane Michael made landfall in Florida's Panhandle.

The News Herald in Panama City tweeted that conditions were "getting very nasty here" as the hurricane's eye closed in. The newsroom was running on generator power without internet access.

The newspaper tweeted that reporters were feeling "crashing thunder shaking building."

At the Panama City news station WJHG/WECP, reporter Tyler Allender tweeted that his colleagues were taking shelter in a hallway in the middle of the building because "this wind is SERIOUS."

Allender said they were sitting in the dark because their building had lost power.


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