A fast and furious Hurricane Michael sped toward the Florida Panhandle on Tuesday with 120 mph winds and a potential storm surge of 13 feet, giving tens of thousands of people precious little time to get out or board up.
Drawing energy from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the storm strengthened rapidly into a potentially devastating Category 3 by evening. It was expected to blow ashore around midday Wednesday near Panama City Beach, along a lightly populated stretch of fishing villages and white-sand spring-break beaches.
The National Weather Service issued a tropical storm warning for Glynn County on Tuesday afternoon. It is likely the storm will arrive in the Golden Isles late today, but winds could begin arriving this morning. St. Simons is predicted to receive between 2 and 3 inches of rain today. Winds are forecast to be 30-35 mph with occasional gusts of up to 50 mph.
Representatives of local and state agencies met twice today to discuss how to respond to Hurricane Michael.
Jay Wiggins, head of Glynn County’s emergency management agency, said Michael may hit the Florida panhandle by Wednesday morning, citing the National Weather Service. He expects the Golden Isles will begin to feel the effects of Michael by Wednesday around 6 p.m.
The Georgia Department of Transportation will close the Sidney Lanier Bridge at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Wiggins said the GDOT will open it again when conditions are safe.
Glynn County likely won’t call for an evacuation. Instead, Wiggins said residents should shelter in place for the duration of the storm. Glynn County Schools said on Twitter on Tuesday schools will be closed Thursday. Schools will dismiss an hour early Wednesday.
College of Coastal Georgia will be closed all day Wednesday and Thursday, according to Christy Lynn Wilson, a college spokeswoman.
All athletic and extracurricular activities will be canceled as well, including after-school programs and aftercare services, according to the school system’s Twitter post.
Frederica Academy will also close on Thursday, and all scheduled activities for that day will be postponed, the school announced. Frederica Academy’s lower school will dismiss at its normal time Wednesday, and no after-school activities will be offered.
The middle school will dismiss at 3:20 p.m. on Wednesday, and the upper school students will be dismissed at noon.
The Golden Isles YMCA will close at 7 p.m. today and may re-open sometime Thursday. All sports practices and events are canceled. Check www.ymcaofcoastalga.org for updates.
Rain may be an issue, but Wiggins said county residents should be more concerned with the wind. Anything that can be blown away by tropical storm force winds should be moved indoors or otherwise secured.
Wiggins said the county doesn’t anticipate closing any roads or bridges as of 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. Some flooding may occur on the F.J. Torras Causeway, and he said the county may close one lane of traffic at most.
A representative with the state Department of Natural Resources said it will pull its boats out of the water this afternoon until the storm passes, and recommended no one enter the water until then.
Georgia Power Area Manager Paulo Albuquerque said the utility is expecting tropical-storm-force winds similar to Tropical Storm Hermine, which struck the Isles in 2016. He encouraged residents to ensure they have gas and ventilation for generators and to report downed power lines to the utility. He also asked those who need power for life support to contact Georgia Power.
Glynn County Sheriff Neal Jump said the grand jury will still meet on Wednesday. Drug court will still be held on Wednesday, as well two civil court hearings.
To keep people from driving during the storm, Jump said visitations at the Glynn County Detention Center will be canceled on Thursday.
Glynn County and Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission offices will close Wednesday at 2 p.m. and reopen at noon on Thursday, should weather permit.
Wiggins said the county EOC will open in a limited capacity for public safety, public works and utility personnel at around 4 p.m. on Wednesday until Michael has passed.
While Florence took five days between the time it turned into a hurricane and the moment it rolled into the Carolinas, Michael gave Florida what amounted to two days’ notice.
It developed into a hurricane on Monday, and by Tuesday, more than 180,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders.