Hurricane Michael remains on track toward the north Florida gulf coast. It’s now a Category 3 storm, with top sustained winds of 110 mph and is moving north at 12 mph.
Our listening area from the Florida/Alabama border eastward is under a Hurricane Warning. A Storm Surge Warning is in effect from the Okaloosa/Walton County line eastward.
Okaloosa County officials offered live morning and afternoon briefings on their Facebook page. Updating the path of the storm, Emergency Management Director Ken Wolfe says – for now – Michael is still on track for a direct landfall in the Panama City area. However, he says Okaloosa residents should not let their guard down.
“The storm could still shift back (and) could come to this area and we could experience Category 3 winds, or if it stays on trajectory it’s currently on, we could see Category 1 winds.”
“What that means is it can still come left, could go further right, which will be better for us, which is to the east,” he continued. “Right now the prediction is a 31 percent chance of hurricane force winds in Destin, and of course that will change if the model shifts to the west. That’s why we’re doing and preparing for a Category 3 hurricane in this area because that could change and come our way with no notice.”
Wolfe says the Okaloosa area is expecting about five inches of rainfall and is keeping a close watch on the Shoal River. And, on its current track and speed, tropical storm force winds are expected in the Okaloosa-Walton area sometime overnight.
County Administrator John Hofstad says the area will get some impact from this storm, and he’s concerned about that in combination with a wet summer and fall.
“The grounds are saturated, so we’re going to have some trees down and potentially some lines down,” he said. “We’re going to have a lot of our crews prepositioned throughout the county. The first responders on our end will be our public works crews trying to clear roads and get passageways open. So, we just ask if you’re not planning to evacuate, and you’re going to be here post-storm, stay at home.”
For those planning to leave, Highway 85 north through Crestview was already near capacity as of late morning, and the window for leaving is rapidly closing.
If you live in an evacuation zone and are deciding whether to stay or go, Deputy County Administrator Greg Kisela says there are a couple of serious factors to consider. First is the possibility of being without water.
“If you’re staying on Okaloosa Island, if the storm shifts to the west, those systems will be turned off and you will not have water,” he said. “So, you should take the precautions if you decide to stay verses evacuate. Those systems, you will not have potable water until whenever we establish that we have integrity of the system.”
Another major consideration is getting across local bridges before it becomes too dangerous or before they’re shut down due to tropical storm force winds sustained at 39 mph and higher.
“It’s scary when you get on top of the Mid-Bay Bridge and all of a sudden you realize you can’t (can’t move), can’t go,” Kisela said. “We’d encourage you if you’re going to evacuate, even as onerous as 85, or 98 or 285 may be, it’s better to leave early rather than get stuck because if this storm wobbles a little to the west, we’re gonna be in a big-time hurt.”
Mike Adkinson, sheriff of Walton County, spoke after a briefing with Gov. Rick Scott, about the Highway 331 Bridge over Choctawhatchee Bay.
“When it happens it happens and it’s not a negotiation,” he said. “When I close that bridge, the bridge is closed, so we’re asking and imploring you to leave now.”
Also, residents are reminded that as conditions worsen, there’s a period when it’s also unsafe for emergency responders to be on the roadways.
However, like Okaloosa Sheriff Larry Ashley, Adkinson is reassuring that he and members of his patrol unit will be well-positioned to protect life and property before and after the storm.
“Sheriff’s office personnel are going to ride this storm out south of the bay,” he said. “I’ll be south of the bay, but I take this seriously. My family lives south of the bay as well. They will evacuate. Please take seriously, the risk your men and women of the fire safety and sheriff’s office personnel are taking riding this storm out. They’re not doing it because they want to; that’s what they do.”
In Walton County, evacuations have been ordered for Evacuation Zones A, B, and C. And, Freeport High School is now open as a general population, special needs, and pet-friendly shelter.
In Okaloosa, evacuation orders have been issued for Okaloosa Island, Holiday Isle and areas south of Highway 98 and around Choctawhatchee Bay, in addition to low-lying and flood-prone areas.
Davidson Middle School and at the Raider Arena of Northwest Florida State College are currently open to the public for shelter.
For more storm information from Okaloosa and Walton counties go to our website at wuwf.org/hurricane-michael.