"However, it is a storm we need to take seriously".
The unexpected brute quickly sprang from a weekend tropical depression and grew swiftly into what could be one of the Panhandle's worst hurricanes in history, with destructive wind, up to a foot of rain and a life-threatening storm surge of up to 13 feet.
"If this trend continues overnight, people in the Florida Panhandle could wake up to having a Category 4 hurricane on their doorstep", senior NHC hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart said during a live webcast. Evacuations spanned 22 counties from the Florida Panhandle into north central Florida.
Anxious meteorologists said it had the potential of becoming one of the worst storms in the history of Florida's Panhandle.
'I guess it's the worst-case scenario.
University of Georgia's Marshall Shepherd, a former president of the American Meteorological Society, called it a "life-altering event" on Facebook and said he watched the storm's growth on satellite images with a pit growing in his stomach.
Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith near the vulnerable coast said his deputies had gone door to door in some places urging people to evacuate. "But the fire chief was leaving town, so that was a pretty good indication that we should get out of there". "Hopefully more people will leave".
The storm was heading north at 13 mph (20 kph) and was about 90 miles (145 km) southwest of Panama City, Florida, the NHC said. Even so, 77-year-old resident Robert Sadousky wasn't quite ready to evacuate yet. More than 5,000 National Guard soldiers have been put on alert. The devastation Michael will inflict on these communities over the next 24 hours will be extreme, regardless.
The hurricane is 90 miles south-west of Panama City as of 8am eastern time. Winds along the Florida coast were already rising above tropical storm strength at the time, all but closing the window for further evacuations as the storm nears shore and moves inland later today.
The boardwalk in the resort town of Destin was almost deserted on Tuesday, the shops and adjoining restaurants closed less than 24 hours before Hurricane Michael was set to slam into this stretch of Florida's Gulf Coast famous for its white beaches. Mike Bettes, a meteorologist with The Weather Channel, noted on Twitter Wednesday morning that his crew was pulling out of Apalachicola, a small coastal community to the right of Michael's projected landfall that will likely bear the brunt of the storm's winds and surge. "We can rebuild your home, but we cannot rebuild your life", Scott said.