Hurricane Michael roars ashore as strongest storm to hit Florida Panhandle

PANAMA CITY, Fla. -- Powerful Hurricane Michael made landfall on the Florida Panhandle with catastrophic winds of 155 mph, the most powerful storm on record ever to menace the stretch of fishing towns, military bases and spring-break beaches.

Hurricane Michael made landfall just northwest of Mexico Beach, Florida, not far from Panama City, the National Hurricane Center said.

With more than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast warned to evacuate, the hurricane lashed the white-sand shoreline with tropical storm-force winds, rain and rising seas before daybreak, hours before the center came ashore.

The brute quickly sprang from a weekend tropical depression, reaching a furious Category 4 early Wednesday as it drew energy from the Gulf of Mexico's warm waters, an unseasonably high 84 degrees.

Less than a day earlier, Michael was a Category 2.

"This is the worst storm that our Florida Panhandle has seen in a century," Gov. Rick Scott said. "Hurricane Michael is upon us, and now is the time to seek refuge."

Forecasters said the storm intensified to 150 mph as it was moving at 14 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended up to 45 miles from its center.

Rainfall could reach up to a foot and the life-threatening storm surge could swell to 14 feet.

The storm appeared to be so powerful that it is expected to remain a hurricane as it moves over Georgia early Thursday.

Forecasters said it will unleash damaging wind and rain all the way into the Carolinas, still recovering from Hurricane Florence's epic flooding.

"We are in new territory," National Hurricane Center Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen wrote on Facebook. "The historical record, going back to 1851, finds no Category 4 hurricane ever hitting the Florida panhandle."

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