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"Additional strengthening is forecast, and Michael is expected to become a hurricane later today".

On Monday and Tuesday, the storm has taken advantage of low wind shear-allowing it to maintain a tight circulation and organized vertical structure-as well as warm, late-summer waters in the Gulf of Mexico to intensify. Tropical storm watches are in effect in some coastal areas of Mississippi, Florida, Georgia and SC.

Now ranked as a Category 1 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson wind scale, Michael could grow into a Category 3, becoming the second major hurricane in the Atlantic basin this year following Florence last month, forecasters said.

A year ago saw a string of catastrophic storms batter the western Atlantic - including Irma, Maria and Hurricane Harvey - causing a record-equaling $125 billion in damage when it flooded the Houston metropolitan area.

Michael's large size, strong winds and heavy rains could produce hazardous flooding along a stretch of Florida's Gulf coast with many rivers and estuaries where seawater pushed ashore by a hurricane could get trapped, said Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham. A hurricane warning was in effect for the Alabama-Florida border to the Suwanee River, with a hurricane watch in place from the Alabama-Florida border to the Mississippi-Alabama border.

Wakulla County issued a dire warning, saying it won't open any of its shelters - because they're safety-rated only for storms up to Category 2 strength, WFSU reports.

Three Florida Panhandle counties have issued mandatory evacuation orders ahead of Hurricane Michael's expected landfall.

About 3.7 million people were under hurricane warnings in the Panhandle and Big Bend regions, as well as parts of southeastern Alabama and southern Georgia.

After striking Florida, Michael is forecast to move up the East Coast on Wednesday and Thursday ploughing through the Carolinas, still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month.

Showers are possible Sunday night and Monday with a cold front; moisture will be limited, and rain amounts should be light.

He said: "We don't know if it's going to wipe out our house or not".

"There's always a chance the track could shift", said Lord.

Michael's trek to Florida is also affecting politics in the state.

Stronger sustained tropical-storm force winds would be confined to the coast or just off shore, maybe for Citrus County, if at all, says FOX 13's meteorologist Dave Osterberg. Category 3 storms have sustained winds of 111 miles per hour to 129 miles per hour, according to the hurricane center's scale. On the other extreme are several models, including the European one, that predict Michael will move more slowly but reach SC near the coastline overnight Thursday and reach North Carolina's Outer Banks by late Friday. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said she feared widespread power outages and other problems would follow.

He declared a state of emergency for 35 Florida counties from the Panhandle to Tampa Bay, activated hundreds of Florida National Guard members and waived tolls to encourage those close to the coast to evacuate inland.

Rainfall could lead to flash flooding in Florida's panhandle and Big Bend regions, as well as in the Carolinas, through Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said.

Some feared significant tree damage and power outages in Florida's capital city.