Update (9 am ET): Hurricane Michael continued to strengthen Wednesday morning, as the Category 4 storm's wind speed increased to 145 mph. The storm is now poised to be the strongest to hit the US in 14 years, boasting a life threatening storm surge and the potential to cause $16 billion in damages.
The storm is now roughly 90 miles southwest of Panama City and is heading north at 13 miles per hour, according to the NHC's latest update. The storm's outer bands are already battering the coastal town of Apalachicola with winds of nearly 50 mph.
As it stands, the storm is also poised to be the strongest to hit the Florida panhandle and big bend since meteorologists first started gathering data. Regional ports have closed in anticipation, and more than 230 flights have been canceled. Duke Energy Corp., a utility that supplies electricity to the region, expects more than 200,000 customers in the state will be without power. In preparation for the widespread outages, local utilities have about 19,000 workers on stand by ready to work to quickly restore power, with more workers pouring in from out of state. Still, some areas are expected to be without power for more than a week, per the Daily Commercial.
"A storm like this could be a once-in-a-lifetime event," said Brett Rathbun, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. "Winds of this intensity can really knock down any tree or structure in its path."
There are also 3,500 National Guard members, 1,000 rescue workers and 3,000 FEMA employees in the area ready to aid in the response. Michael is whipping up waves as high as 30 feet in the Gulf and could bring a 14-foot surge and 4 to 8 inches of rain, with some isolated areas getting as much as 12 inches.