US braces for ‘life-threatening’ hurricane

US braces for ‘life-threatening’ hurricane

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Clouds cover nearly all of Florida in this US government satellite image Image copyright NOAA
Image caption Clouds cover nearly all of Florida in this US government satellite image

Officials are warning residents along Florida’s gulf coast to prepare for a possibly “life-threatening hurricane”, which is due to strike later this week.

Hurricane Michael may reach category three strength before it arrives in Florida, possibly on Wednesday, and will then move up the US East Coast.

Michael, which is the 13th named storm of the season, is already lashing Cuba with strong winds and heavy rains.

Officials in areas hit by Hurricane Florence warn of damage from the rains.

North Carolina may receive 1 to 3in (2 to 7cm) of rain, officials say, which could trigger flash flooding due to the existing level of saturation in the ground from Hurricane Florence, which struck North and South Carolina last month.

Michael’s current wind speeds are 75mph (120km/h). It is approaching the US at a pace of 7mph.

Forecasters with the US National Hurricane Center in Miami warn that the hurricane will continue to move over warm waters, which may cause it to generate winds reaching 111mph by Tuesday night.

Parts of Florida may receive up to 12in of rain, leading to the possibility of severe flooding.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, who suspended his Republican campaign for the US Senate to deal with the approaching storm, issued a state of emergency for 26 counties of Florida on Sunday.

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“This storm will be life-threatening and extremely dangerous,” Gov Scott said after he received a briefing at the state’s emergency management centre.

The city of Tallahassee has opened two locations for residents to pick up sandbags in anticipation of flooding.

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Media captionWhy do people ignore hurricane warnings?

“While the impacts are still uncertain, our area could experience increased wind activity and heavy rainfall, which could cause localised flooding and downed trees,” Tallahassee officials said in a statement.

Tallahassee Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum, who will face off against Gov Scott in the November election, has also suspended his campaign and returned to the northern Florida city to help with storm preparations.

Florida State University, which is in Tallahassee, announced it was shutting down its campus after midnight on Monday, and will remain closed for the rest of the week.


A guide to the world’s deadliest storms

Hurricanes are violent storms that can bring devastation to coastal areas, threatening lives, homes and businesses.

Hurricanes develop from thunderstorms, fuelled by warm, moist air as they cross sub-tropical waters.
Warm air rises into the storm.

Air swirls in to fill the low pressure in the storm, sucking air in and upwards, reinforcing the low pressure.

The storm rotates due to the spin of the earth and energy from the warm ocean increases wind speeds as it builds.

When winds reach 119km/h (74mph), it is known as a hurricane – in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific – or a typhoon in the Western Pacific.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. Well, we’re about to get punched in the face.”
Florida Mayor Bob Buckhorn, ahead of Hurricane Irma (2017)

The central eye of calmer weather is surrounded by a wall of rainstorms.
This eyewall has the fastest winds below it and violent currents of air rising through it.

A mound of water piles up below the eye which is unleashed as the storm reaches land.
These storm surges can cause more damage from flooding than the winds.

“Urgent warning about the rapid rise of water on the SW FL coast with the passage of #Irma’s eye. MOVE AWAY FROM THE WATER!”
Tweet from the National Hurricane Center

The size of hurricanes is mainly measured by the Saffir-Simpson scale – other scales are used in Asia Pacific and Australia.

Winds 119-153km/h
Some minor flooding, little structural damage.
Storm surge +1.2m-1.5m

Winds 154-177km/h
Roofs and trees could be damaged.
Storm surge +1.8m-2.4m

Winds 178-208km/h
Houses suffer damage, severe flooding
Storm surge +2.7m-3.7m

Hurricane Sandy (2012) caused $71bn damage in the Caribbean and New York

Winds 209-251km/h
Some roofs destroyed and major structural damage to houses.
Storm surge +4m-5.5m

Hurricane Ike (2008) hit Caribbean islands and Louisiana and was blamed for at least 195 deaths

Winds 252km/h+
Serious damage to buildings, severe flooding further inland.
Storm surge +5.5m

Hurricane Irma (2017) caused devastation in Caribbean islands, leaving thousands homeless

“For everyone thinking they can ride this storm out, I have news for you: that will be one of the biggest mistakes you can make in your life.”
Mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin ahead of Hurricane Gustav, 2008

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