Powerful Hurricane Michael Nearing North Florida

Powerful hurricane Michael was nearing north Florida on Wednesday morning.  Michael intensified rapidly to Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale during the overnight hours.  At 8:00 a.m. EDT on Wednesday the center of Hurricane Michael was located at latitude 29.0°N and longitude 86.3°W which put it about 90 miles south-southwest of Panama City, Florida.  Michael was moving toward the north at 13 m.p.h. (20 km/h).  The maximum sustained wind speed was 145 m.p.h. (230 km/h) and there were wind gusts to 170 m.p.h. (275 km/h).  The minimum surface pressure was 933 mb.

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

Hurricane Michael intensified rapidly during the past 12 hours.  An eye with a diameter of 20 miles (32 km) is surrounded by a ring of strong thunderstorms.  The strongest winds are occurring in that ring of storms.  Storms near the core of Hurricane Michael are generating strong upper level divergence which is pumping large quantities of mass away from the hurricane.  The removal of mass allowed the surface pressure to decrease rapidly to 933 mb.

Winds to hurricane force extend out about 45 m.p.h. (75 km/h) from the center of Hurricane Michael.  Winds to tropical storm force extend out about 185 miles (290 km) from the center of circulation.  The Hurricane Intensity Index (HII) for Hurricane Michael is 29.9.  The Hurricane Size Index (HSI) is 16.1 and the Hurricane Wind Intensity Size Index (HWISI) is 46.0.  Hurricane Michael is capable of causing regional significant damage.

Hurricane Michael is stronger than any other hurricane to hit north Florida in the historical record.  Michael is similar in intensity to what Hurricane Charley was when Charley hit southwest Florida in 2004.  Hurricane Michael is bigger than Charley was in 2004.

An upper level trough over the Central U.S. and a subtropical high pressure system over the western Atlantic Ocean are combining to steer Hurricane Michael toward the north.  The trough will turn Michael toward the northeast when it reaches the coast.  On its anticipated track Hurricane Michael will make landfall near Panama City and Port St. Joe, Florida in about six hours.

Hurricane Michael will bring destructive winds to the coast of north Florida.  The strongest winds will be near the center and east of the center.  Those winds will push water toward the coast and a storm surge of 10 to 15 feet (3 to 5 meters) will occur east of where the center of Michael makes landfall.  The coast of the northeast Gulf of Mexico is very vulnerable to storm surges and significant damage will occur.

The center of Hurricane Michael will move between Dothan, Alabama and Tallahassee, Florida.  It will pass near Albany, Georgia and then move south of Macon, Georgia.  The center of Michael could move near Columbia, South Carolina and then it could exit the East Coast of the U.S. near Norfolk, Virginia.

Michael will bring hurricane force winds to northeast Florida, extreme southeast Alabama and southern Georgia.  There will be widespread power outages.  Winds to tropical storm force will occur in South Carolina and North Carolina.  Hurricane Michael will drop locally heavy rain when it moves inland.  The wind and rain will disrupt efforts to recover from the effects of Hurricane Florence in South Carolina and North Carolina.