Warm water is like jet fuel for hurricanes, and a combination of balmy conditions in the Gulf of Mexico, a lack of disturbance from wind shear and rapid intensification near the coast turned Michael into a historic storm, according to hurricane experts.
With a low barometric pressure recorded at 919 millibars, the measure of a hurricane's force, Michael ranked as the third-strongest storm on record to make landfall in the continental United States.
Florida has issued mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders in at least 22 counties on the Gulf Coast, with Governor Rick Scott urging people yesterday to get out of the way of the "monstrous storm", CNN reported.
"There are warnings for more than 300 miles (480km) of coastline", the National Weather Service tweeted, predicting that Michael would become a "large and unsafe hurricane".
Michael is predicted to be a tropical storm by the time it reaches the SC border with Georgia, according to the National Weather Service. And then there was the life-threatening storm surge.
There is "one hurricane-related fatality", Olivia Smith, public information officer for the Gadsden County Board of County Commissioners, said.
Trump was briefed on the hurricane on Wednesday prior to it making landfall and said he would visit the area early next week.
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In addition, this storm had the third-lowest central air pressure of any US landfalling hurricane on record.
Some parts of the Carolinas and southern Virginia, recently deluged by Hurricane Florence, could see up to 6 inches, the hurricane center said.
The hurricane's peak winds were at 145kmh as it moved north-north west at 19kmh.
Jason Phipps looks through his family's roofless apartment after Hurricane Michael made landfall in Panama City, Fla.
It appeared to be so powerful that it was expected to remain a hurricane as it moved into Alabama and Georgia early Thursday. It is the fourth strongest on record, and nothing this ferocious has ever hit the Panhandle. Surges of as high as 14 feet are expected around where Michael made landfall near Apalachicola, Florida.
Ken Graham, director of the Miami-based National Hurricane Center, said Michael is "unfortunately, a historical and incredibly risky and life-threatening situation".
About 162,000 homes and business customers were already without power around mid-afternoon in Florida, Georgia and Alabama, utility companies said. It was only two miles per hour slower than a Category 5.
Across the bay in Panama City Beach, a resort city on the Gulf of Mexico known for its white-sand beach and amusement parks, winds of about 100 miles per hour furiously whipped the trees in the early afternoon and pulled apart homes.
In the case of Michael the damage will be mainly from wind rather than rain.