Emergency officials in Leon County are predicting Hurricane Michael will be the “strongest” and “most extreme” storm in decades to hit Florida’s capital city.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday in Tallahassee, county Emergency Management Director Kevin Peters said Hurricane Michael is nearly a Category 3 storm. He anticipates it will make landfall at that strength on Wednesday somewhere near Panama City.
Tropical storm force winds are expected in Leon County as early as 8 p.m., Peters said. He anticipates hurricane gusts will begin sometime around midday on Wednesday, lasting into the evening.
“Hurricane Michael is expected to be the strongest hurricane to hit our area of Florida since 1894,” said Peters.
Currently, local shelter space is open to the public at Chiles High School, Godby High School, SAIL high school, Lincoln High School and Fort Braden K-8. But more could open as the storm nears.
Joining Peters were local officials and lawmakers, including Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. He emphasized preparation ahead of Tuesday evening, when conditions are expected to worsen.
“We can’t ‘exclamation mark’ and underscore the importance of this storm and storm preparation enough,” Gillum said.
Those not heeding warnings ahead of the storm, Gillum said, are making “those underestimations at their own risk.” He said the city is anticipating a “life-threatening” event and preparations should be completed before Tuesday night.
Emergency vehicles at the ready “cannot roll once the wind gets above 35 miles per hour,” Gillum said, meaning during the storm individuals “are their best first responder.”
The Democratic candidate for Governor did not speak on the state of his race against Republican Ron DeSantis. But while speaking with reporters earlier on Tuesday, Gillum addressed criticisms of his handling of Hurricane Hermine, which struck Tallahassee in 2016.
“I don’t expect that the power would’ve gotten on quicker after Hermine than when it did,” Gillum said. “We had 90 percent of folks back in power three days after the storm event.”
The Republican Party of Florida weaponized storm-related criticisms last week when it debuted two television ads attacking the Mayor’s post-Hermine response.
“Gillum refused help from workers,” one Tallahassee local charges in one of the spots. Adds another: “Gillum turned away workers who could have restored our power.”
After Hermine, Tallahassee officials said they did not “reject” offers of help from outside utilities in the wake of Hurricane Hermine, but rather just didn’t say “yes” to everyone right away.
And at the time, Gillum told Florida Politics he was in the dark about a formal offer by Florida Power & Light to help restore power after Hermine.
Gillum said later on Tuesday that the number of employees assisting the city-owned utility will be six-fold the usual.