Staff Writer Tom McLaughlin is riding out Hurricane Michael inside of a"media room" overlooking the Okaloosa County's Emergency Operations Center on the Northwest Florida State College campus.

 

Staff Writer Tom McLaughlin is riding out Hurricane Michael inside of a"media room" overlooking the Okaloosa County's Emergency Operations Center on the Northwest Florida State College campus.

12:15 p.m. UPDATE

As its anticipated noon to 1 p.m. landfall drew closer, Hurricane Michael continued to shift slightly eastward Wednesday morning, taking whatever tragic devastation loomed for Eastern Panhandle and Big Bend areas with it and diminishing the opportunity for severe impacts to Okaloosa County.

"We're saying our prayers for the people east of us, but are thankful it isn't as bad here as what we thought it could be," said Graham Fountain, chairman of the Okaloosa County Commission.

The National Weather Service told county officials at a 10 a.m. briefing that the probability of hurricane force winds striking even Destin in the southeastern corner of the county had diminished to 5 percent.

“We still cannot rule out hurricane force wind gusts in coastal Okaloosa, but it’s beginning to look less likely,” a Weather Service power point presentation shown at the briefing said.

Nonetheless, County Administrator John Hofstad warned residents who hadn’t evacuated Tuesday to continue to “hunker down in their homes” and wait for sometimes heavy rain and tropical storm strength winds gusting between 50 and 70 miles per hour to subside.

The threat of hurricane force wind gusts would end by 5 p.m., the Weather Service said, and any storm related activity was expected to diminish by 8 p.m.

Okaloosa County had experienced some local power outages early and more were expected as Hurricane Michael moved ashore, Hofstad said. Gulf Power had stopped running crews by 11 a.m. as conditions deteriorated and county officials urged affected residents to be patient and allow the storm to pass

The Mid Bay Bridge remained open at noon, though closure appeared imminent. Okaloosa County Commission Chairman Graham Fountain said there was “virtually no traffic” in the county and it appeared that most who had been asked to evacuate had done so.

“I think everybody moved out,” he said.

The tropical storm winds Okaloosa was experiencing as the afternoon began were being felt as far west at Pensacola, the National Weather Service said.

Northwest Florida remained under a Coastal Flood Advisory and it was projected that the Shoal River near Crestview could reach minor flood stage by Thursday evening.

“Minor coastal flooding is occurring, but will begin to abate as winds become stronger out of the north,” the Weather Service said.

 

9:45 a.m. UPDATE

At about 7 a.m., Wednesday Hurricane Michael took the turn to the east that Okaloosa County residents had been anxiously watching for since the night before and it appeared most of the region would be spared hurricane force winds.

The exception could be east Walton County, which, according to Okaloosa County Adminstrator John Hofstad, appeared to remain inside the 35 mile reach of the massive storm’s eye wall as it bore in on an area east of Panama City.

Hofstad said the worst of the pounding Okaloosa County will likely get is expected to arrive about noon when heavy rains will be accompanied by tropical storm force winds of between 58 and 73 miles per hour.

“Thankfully, this storm is moving quickly, and hopefully by this evening it will have moved out of here,” Hofstad said.

As of 9 a.m., no bridges in Okaloosa County had been closed, but Hofstad had received reports of spans to the east being closed and said he anticipated closures locally, with the Mid-Bay Bridge likely to be the first closed as storm bands invaded from the east.

While the county shouldn’t get an overwhelming amount of rain, Hofstad said that because the area had experienced a wet summer and early fall the combination of high wind and rain would probably down trees, dropping them on power lines and into road ways from which they’ll have to be cleared.

Hofstad said that Beach Safety Director Rich Huffnagle had visited Okaloosa County’s coastline Tuesday morning and reported little erosion. He said the 30 mile an hour winds that had been moving through the county most of the day were blowing primarily east to west and therefore not pulling sand off the beach. Some erosion is expected when storm bands from Hurricane Michael arrive from the north later Tuesday, Hofstad said.

8 a.m.

Tropical storm force winds of 30 miles per hour have been reported. Storm surge at shortly after 8 a.m. projected to be 2 to 4 feet in Okaloosa County. That is down significantly from the last report of 4-8 feet that was provided just before 8 a.m.

County spokesman Christopher Saul, the only person speaking to the media, says he’s not heard of any property damage or beach erosion, but that the county at this time is primarily concerned with the well being of the human population.

There are presently 119 people in a shelter at the north end of the county and 200 in the south end, Saul said.