Michael Strengthens to a Major Hurricane

Hurricane Michael strengthened into a major hurricane on Tuesday afternoon.  At 5:00 p.m. EDT on Tuesday the center of Hurricane Michael was located at latitude 26.0°N and longitude 86.4°W which put it about 290 miles (470 km) south of Panama City, Florida.  Michael was moving toward the north at 12 m.p.h. (19 km/h).  The maximum sustained wind speed was 120 m.p.h. (195 km/h) and there were wind gusts to 140 m.p.h. (225 km/h).  The minimum surface pressure was 957 mb.

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for the portion of the coast from the Alabama-Florida border to the Suwanee River, Florida.  Tropical Storm Warnings are in effect for the portions of the coast from the Alabama-Florida border to the Alabama-Mississippi border, from Suwanee River to Chassahowitzka, Florida and from Fernandina Beach, Florida to South Santee River, South Carolina on the Atlantic Coast.  Tropical Storm Watches are in effect for the portions of the coast from the Alabama-Mississippi border to the Mouth of the Pearl River, from Chassahowitzka to Anna Maria Island, Florida and from South Santee, River South Carolina to Duck, North Carolina including Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds.

The inner core of Hurricane Michael tightened on Tuesday afternoon.  The diameter of the eye decreased from 30 miles (50 km) to 22 miles (35 km).  The ring of thunderstorms around the eye tightened around the smaller eye and the strongest winds were closer to the center of circulation.  Storms around the core of Michael were generating upper level divergence which was pumping mass away from the hurricane.  The removal of mass allowed the surface pressure to decrease from 965 mb to 957 mb during the past six hours.

Winds to hurricane force extend out about 45 miles (75 km) from the center of Hurricane Michael.  Winds to tropical storm force extend out about 170 miles (280 km) from the center of circulation.  The Hurricane Intensity Index (HII) for Hurricane Michael is 22.1.  The Hurricane Size Index (HSI) is 14.6 and the Hurricane Wind Intensity Size Index (HWISI) is 36.7.  Hurricane Michael is capable of causing regional major damage.

Hurricane Michael will move through an environment favorable for intensification for another 12 to 18 hours.  Michael will move over water where the Sea Surface Temperature is near 29°C.  An upper level trough over the Central U.S. is producing westerly winds which are blowing toward the top of Hurricane Michael, but those winds are not causing enough vertical wind shear to prevent intensification.  Hurricane Michael could intensify to Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale before it makes landfall.

Hurricane Michael is moving between a subtropical high pressure system over the western Atlantic Ocean and the upper level trough over the Central U.S.  Those two weather systems are steering Michael toward the north and that general motion is expected to continue for another 12 hours.  On its anticipated track Hurricane Michael will make landfall near Panama City and Port St. Joe, Florida early on Wednesday afternoon.  The upper level trough will steer Michael more toward the northeast after it makes landfall.  The center of Michael is likely to move between Dothan, Alabama and Tallahassee, Florida and it could pass near Albany, Georgia.

Hurricane Michael will bring strong winds to northwest Florida, extreme southeast Alabama and southern Georgia.  There will be wind damage and widespread power outages could occur.  The coast of the northeastern Gulf of Mexico is very vulnerable to storm surges.  Hurricane Michael will produce a storm surge of 10 to 15 feet (3 to 5 meters) at some points along the coast.  Michael will drop locally heavy rain.  Although Hurricane Michael will weaken when it moves inland, it will bring gusty winds and heavy rain to South Carolina and North Carolina.  Hurricane Michael will hinder efforts in those states to recover from the effects of Hurricane Florence.