Hurricane Michael enters into the Gulf and will rapidly intensify soon.
There is little to stop Michael from gaining enough strength to become a major hurricane within the next 24 to 36 hours. Wind shear remains low, and the waters are very warm, giving ample fuel for the storm.
On recent satellite imagery, Michael appears to becoming more symmetrical (imagine a figure skater spinning and beginning to bring his or her arms closer to their body). It is at this point the storm can gain momentum and strength as it churns closer to the panhandle.
Exactly where Michael makes landfall will be determined by its forward speed. A slower speed will create an easterly movement as high pressure to the east to will break down during the same time. However, if Michael maintains a relatively quicker speed, a westerly movement will be more likely as the high pressure to the east remains strong and forces it to the west.
Regardless of the exact landfall location, Michael will be a major hurricane upon landfall. Heavy rain and strong winds will be major threats closer to the center of the storm. However, as strong winds extend for hundreds of miles east of the center of the storm, life threatening storm surge will be possible for areas well east of the center of the storm (and not in the cone). Similar to SWFL, the Florida Panhandle is extremely vulnerable to storm surge due to its bathymetry.