Hurricane Michael has been upgraded to a Category 2 storm. The storm is still forecast to make landfall as a Category 3 hurricane.
Maximum sustained wind speeds are 110 mph, as of the 2 p.m. Tuesday National Hurricane Center advisory.
“Let me be clear, Hurricane Michael is a monstrous storm … we are just 12 hours away from seeing impact,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said during a media conference Tuesday morning. "The time to prepare is now."
The storm is about 310 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola, Florida, and moving north at 12 mph.
The NHC expects the center of Hurricane Michael to cross onto the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend Area on Wednesday.
The hurricane is expected to reach Category 3 status near impact with the United States,
By Wednesday night and Thursday, the storm will cut through the southeastern United States.
The hurricane is expected to maintain at least tropical storm level strength as it crosses Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, according to FOX8 Meteorologist Emily Byrd of the FOX8 Max Weather Center.
"As Michael continues its trek across the Carolinas, rain will become steadier and heavier, especially during the day on Thursday," Byrd said. "Highs hold steadily in the mid-70s both days. A cold front will sweep Michael offshore northeastern North Carolina overnight Thursday into Friday morning."
Some Florida counties ordered to evacuate
Floridians scurried to prepare after Gov. Scott extended a state of emergency to 35 counties and activated 1,250 National Guardsmen for hurricane duty.
"This storm will be life-threatening and extremely dangerous," Scott said at a news conference Sunday. "This storm has the potential to bring devastating impacts to communities across the Panhandle and Big Bend and every family must be prepared."
"Everybody's got to get ready. Don't take a chance," he said. "We're going to get storm surge, we have wind, we have a chance of flooding, we have a significant chance of tornadoes."
The governor has declared states of emergency for Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Holmes, Washington, Bay, Jackson, Calhoun, Gulf, Gadsden, Liberty, Franklin, Leon, Wakulla, Jefferson, Madison, Taylor, Hamilton, Suwannee, Lafayette, Dixie, Columbia, Gilchrist, Levy, Citrus, Pasco, Hernando, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Alachua, Union, Bradford and Baker counties.
Mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders were issued along the Florida Panhandle and Scott said on Twitter that he has directed the Florida Department of Transportation to suspend tolls in the northwest Florida region.
The Florida Highway Patrol is sending 100 state troopers to the Panhandle and Big Bend areas in preparation for the storm, he said.
Florida State University campuses in Tallahassee and Panama City plan to close Tuesday through Friday.
Alabama prepares for widespread power outages
In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statewide state of emergency, saying on Twitter that it was "in anticipation of wide-spread power outages, wind damage and debris produced by high winds & heavy rain associated with #HurricaneMichael."
The governor's declaration activates the state's emergency operations plan, according to Ivey's office.
"I am concerned about the cone of uncertainty as Hurricane Michael is leaning west today," Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Brian Hastings said in a statement Monday. "Residents and businesses in coastal Alabama must be vigilant and closely monitor the storm's path and be prepared for a major hurricane."
Hurricane conditions expected in western Cuba
In the Caribbean, a hurricane warning for the Cuban province of Pinar del Rio was downgraded to a tropical storm warning Tuesday morning, while a tropical storm warning was discontinued for the Isle of Youth. A warning for the coast of Mexico from Tulum to Cabo Catoche, was canceled late Monday.
"Tropical storm conditions conditions will continue over portions of the far western Cuban province of Pinar del Rio for the next few hours," the National Hurricane Center said Tuesday morning.
Michael is expected to produce heavy rainfall and flash flooding over portions of western Cuba during the next day or so," it said.
According to an alert published by the Cuban Civil Defense, meteorologists warned affected residents that they could experience hurricane-force winds. Officials also alerted residents living on the coast of the possibility of flooding caused by the storm.
Over the weekend, flooding related to Michael led to at least 13 deaths in the Central American countries of Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador, according to officials in those countries.