CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Hurricane Michael is set to make landfall along the Florida panhandle Wednesday afternoon as a powerful Category 4 hurricane.
As of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center recorded maximum sustained winds of 150 mph with gusts even higher as the eye of the storm continues to churn toward the Gulf Coast. Landfall is expected near Panama City Beach around 2 p.m. Michael is expected to be the strongest hurricane to ever hit the Florida panhandle.
The storm is expected to move into the Carolinas Thursday with heavy rain and wind gusts that could be at tropical storm force near Charlotte. Chief Meteorologist Brad Panovich has the answer to some of the most commonly asked questions he's seen about the storm.
Will my flight be delayed?
"I have no idea," Panovich said. "That's the thing about flights, it's totally up to the airline. It' snot up to me or the weather."
At least four airports have been shut down in Florida and dozens of flights have been canceled due to the storm. American Airlines and Delta have both announced that change fees would be waived with Delta also capping fares for passengers in affected areas.
As always, check with your airline and with the airport before making any changes to your travel plans. It's unlikely that Charlotte Douglas shuts down during the storm, but flights could be delayed, especially as the worst of the storm moves through on Thursday.
Will schools be closed?
"Again, this is independent of weather," Panovich said. "I give weather information to school systems all the time. How they use it is up to them."
Schools in different areas have different criteria for closures, ranging from wind speeds that prevent buses from being on the roads to whether schools are being used as hurricane shelters. As we saw during Florence, several Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools were closed because they were used as shelters for evacuees during the storm.
UPDATE: Several school districts in the Charlotte area will be closed Thursday due to heavy rain and winds from Michael. Closings include Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Fort Mill Schools, Richmond County Schools and Union County Schools. Click here for a complete list of school closings.
Should I drive during the storm?
Ultimately, this is up to you. As long as you're comfortable, driving Thursday shouldn't be too dangerous as Michael moves through the Carolinas.
"I can't be the decision makers for you on this," Panovich said. "It's just rain, it's just wind. We won't have the flooding and there won't be catastrophic issues like they're having in Florida."
Panovich said there is the possibility of flash flooding and downed trees and power lines, but nothing out of the ordinary with any weak tropical system. And anyone who's driven in south Charlotte in a thunderstorm knows it doesn't take much to take down a tree, so use your best judgment.
"Unless you're traveling in the middle of the day Thursday, you'll likely avoid the worst weather," Panovich said. "The morning rush might be OK, the evening rush could be a little shady, but it might be OK, too."
If you don't like driving in the rain or wind, it's probably best to stay home.
What's the timing for Charlotte?
The worst of Michael will be in the Charlotte area between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m with the heart of the afternoon seeing the worst conditions, likely between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
And once it's gone, things will improve.
"It's in and out. Heavy rain, yes, and we could see some flash flooding but all in all, this is going to be a quick hitter," Panovich said. "It'll be beautiful late Thursday night, no issues once we get to the weekend."