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.
More than 5,000 evacuees sought shelter in the capital city, which is about 25 miles from the coast but is covered by live oak and pine trees that can fall and cause power outages even in smaller storms.
Rick Scott (R) expressed his concern about residents who chose not to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Michael making landfall on Wednesday.
In a 5 p.m. update on October 9, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Michael has strengthened to a "major hurricane" and has life-threatening storm surge, hurricane-force winds, and heavy rainfall.
Waves crash against the Malecon, triggered by the outer bands of Hurricane Michael, as tourists drive past in a classic American auto in Havana, Cuba.
Currently, Michael is located 295 miles south of Panama City, Florida, and 270 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola, Florida. Evacuations spanned 22 counties from the Florida Panhandle into north central Florida.
"I guess it's the worst case scenario".
Hurricane Michael effects possible for Beaufort County
Storm surge is likely to be catastrophic north of Crystal River north and west to the popular beach destination of Panama City. Environmental conditions are favorable "for at least steady intensification" through Tuesday night, the Hurricane Center said.
"This is going to have structure damaging winds along the coast and hurricane force winds inland", meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com told the Associated Press. "We want to get them out of the way". "The forecast keeps getting more risky", said Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday as he urged all residents in the storm's path to evacuate or seek safe shelter.
"Don't think that you can ride this out if you're in a low-lying area", Nelson said on CNN.
"I am not seeing the level of traffic on the roadways that I would expect when we've called for the evacuation of 75 percent of this county", Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said. "This might be really bad and serious".
Mandatory evacuation orders went into effect in Panama City Beach and other low-lying areas in the storm's path. That included Pensacola Beach but not in Pensacola itself, a city of about 54,000.
Then, it will "move northeastward across the southeastern United States Wednesday night and Thursday, and move off the Mid-Atlantic coast away from the United States on Friday", the NHC said.
The sinister-looking skull appeared briefly on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite images on Tuesday as the hurricane moved closer to the Florida Panhandle.
Forecasters in Alabama warned of possible tornados.