Florida's Panhandle, from Pensacola to Apalachicola, and its Big Bend area are the zones of greatest concern.
It is expected to quickly travel up the US East Coast after making landfall on the Gulf Coast.
The storm's rapid intensification over the past two days, despite shifting winds, "defies traditional logic", according to hurricane forecasters.
At 11 a.m. Wednesday, the eye of Michael was about 60 miles (95 kilometers) south-southwest of Panama City and 65 miles west-southwest of Apalachicola, moving north-northeast at 14 mph.
"Today is the day".
Panama City Beach fire department chief Larry Couch said: "If they decide to stay, there will be a point where we can't get to them".
A tropical storm warning was issued from Fernandina Beach Florida to South Santee River South Carolina.
Tornadoes are also a possibility, but mostly in eastern North Carolina as the center of the storm passes through Columbia, S.C., and heads over Fayetteville, N.C., on Thursday, says the National Weather Service. He warned that storm surge could affect areas of Florida not in the storm's direct path.
"I just think that people don't realize the risk of this", he said.
Due to the lack of these wind shears, Michael has continued to strengthen as it moves through the ocean.
As the Florida Panhandle braces for the most powerful storm to hit its shores in more than a century, Gov. Rick Scott issued dire, final warnings to those still along the coast: it is too late to get out.
Anxious meteorologists said it had the potential of becoming one of the worst storms in the history of Florida's Panhandle.
Scott said 1,000 search and rescue personnel would be deployed after Michael sweeps through, adding that 3,500 National Guard members had been activated, with state troopers and transportation crews ready to clear roadways to allow trucks with food, water and medicine to reach affected areas. The intensity of the storm means that the storm surge will reach 10 feet or higher in places and that level of water will inundate many low-lying communities.
But police weren't being pushy about enforcing the order, and Thomas figured he, his wife and their puppy will be OK since they live in a second-floor apartment.
Winds 252km/h+ Serious damage to buildings, severe flooding further inland.
"The storm surge is absolutely deadly".
"No long-time residents of this area will have seen a hurricane this strong before", said the Weather Channel. More than 80 deaths were linked to that storm, according to The Associated Press - including residents of a nursing home.
Tolls were being suspended in the state's northwest region to ease the evacuation process, and the Florida Highway Patrol is sending almost 350 state troopers to the Panhandle and Big Bend areas, Scott said.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency for her state Tuesday because of expected wide-spread power outages and wind damage.
"Storm surge is the No. 1 problem that you can see from these storms".
Businesses are hanging tough as a nod to local first responders, just hours ahead of Hurricane Michael. Levy County has closed its schools through Thursday; Florida State University, in Tallahassee, has closed as well.
Residents who are considering leaving are encouraged to do so as early as possible.
In terms of wind intensity, that would make it stronger than Hurricane Florence, which had winds of 90 miles per hour when it blew ashore in North Carolina last month. "Take care of them", he said.
Landfall is expected Wednesday on the northeastern Gulf Coast, where authorities warned of a potentially devastating strike.
Florida Fish and Wildlife has put 40 additional law enforcement officers on notice to deploy with a variety of special equipment, including boats that can be used for high-water rescues. All told, over 100 counties throughout multiple states have received emergency declarations, and this CNN clip shows the storm's frightening approach on radar.
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