Maritime ports and logistics facilities in the Florida panhandle were bracing Tuesday for the arrival of Hurricane Michael, a storm prowling through the Gulf of Mexico that is forecast to make landfall in the U.S. Wednesday as a powerful Force 3 hurricane.
Officials have declared a hurricane warning for regions from the Alabama/Florida border in the west to Florida's Suwannee River in the east, as the storm chugs through the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Hurricane Michael follows close on the heels of Hurricane Florence, which swept over North Carolina on Sept. 14, delivering drenching rains and causing flooding that has lingered for weeks, closing ports and highways and wreaking damage on warehouses, rail lines, and other logistics facilities.
The center of Michael is expected to move inland over the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend area on Wednesday, and then move northeastward across the southeastern U.S. Wednesday night and Thursday, and move off the Mid-Atlantic coast away from the U.S. by Friday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA's) National Hurricane Center.
Specifically, the storm is expected to bring high winds and deep storm surge to the region, and to dump rain totaling 4 to 8 inches—with isolated amounts of 12 inches—across the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend, southeast Alabama, and southern Georgia. As it moves northeast, the storm could then drop 3 to 6 inches of rain in Eastern Georgia, the Carolinas, and southern Virginia, the National Hurricane Center said.
In preparation for the storm, the Port of Panama City and Port of Pensacola, both on the Florida panhandle, on Tuesday set hurricane condition Yankee, which is the next-to-worst point on a Coast Guard scale that ranges from the least serious, Whiskey, to X-Ray, Yankee, and the worst—Zulu—as storms intensify.
The forecast is more optimistic on the state's Atlantic coast, where the Port of Jacksonville and Port of Fernandina remain at hurricane condition Whiskey, and say they plan to remain open with no restrictions. Likewise, farther east near Miami, Port Everglades has not yet issued any storm warnings, but the site does have an online webcam showing real-time video of weather conditions in the port.
In other impacts, officials have already evacuated offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida governor Rick Scott has mobilized National Guard troops and ordered Gulf Coast residents to head inland or get ready to evacuate, according to Reuters.
To help travelers evacuating or moving through the region, the state of Florida has also provided a smartphone app that provides real-time travel data such as road closures of interstates and major routes, as well as a website, Twitter messages, text alerts, and live camera views. Residents can download this Florida 511 Advanced Traveler Information System (FL511) on their mobile computers.
That information could prove to be valuable since parts of the recovery from the Hurricane Florence's flooding in Wilmington, N.C., has been slowed by vehicles trying to use roads that were flooded and closed faster than smartphone routing apps could keep up with the news, officials said.