Hurricane Michael Makes Landfall in Northwest Florida

Powerful Hurricane Michael made landfall in Northwest Florida Wednesday afternoon.  The center of Hurricane Michael officially made landfall between Panama City and Mexico Beach, Florida.  At 2:00 p.m. EDT on Wednesday the center of Hurricane Michael was located at latitude 30.0°N and longitude 85.5°W which put it about 20 miles (30 km) southeast of Panama City, Florida.  Michael was moving toward the north-northeast at 14 m.p.h. (22 km/h).  The maximum sustained wind speed was 155 m.p.h. (250 km/h) and there were wind gusts to 180 m.p.h. (290 km/h).  The minimum surface pressure was 919 mb.

Hurricane Michael intensified rapidly right up to landfall on the Gulf Coast.  The minimum surface pressure decreased from 933 mb to 919 mb in the six hours prior to landfall.  With a maximum sustained wind speed of 155 m.p.h. (250 km/h) Hurricane Michael was at the top end of Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.  Michael is the strongest hurricane on record to make landfall on that portion of the Gulf Coast and it was one of the most intense hurricanes to make landfall anywhere along the coast of the U.S. during the month of October.

Even though Hurricane Michael is moving inland, a Hurricane Warning remains in effect for the portion of the coast from the Alabama-Florida border to Suwanee River, Florida.  A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect from the Suwanee River to Chassahowitzka, Florida.  A Tropical Storm Warning is also in effect for the Atlantic Coast from Fernandina Beach, Florida to Duck, North Carolina including Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds.  A Tropical Storm Watch remains in effect from Chassahowitzka to Anna Maria Island, Florida.

Winds to hurricane force extended out about 45 miles (75 km) from the center of Hurricane Michael at the time of landfall.  Winds to tropical storm force extended out about 185 miles (290 km) from the center of circulation.  The Hurricane Intensity Index (HII) was 33.3.  The Hurricane Size Index (HSI) was 16.1 and the Hurricane Wind Intensity Size Index (HWISI) was 49.4.  Hurricane Michael will cause regional significant damage.

Tyndall Air Force Base reported a wind gust of 119 m.p.h. (191 km/h).  The Florida State University Panama City Campus reported a wind gust of 116 m.p.h. (187 km/h).   The Panama City Treatment Plant reported a wind gust of 94 m.p.h. (151 km/h).

The coast along the northeastern Gulf of Mexico is very vulnerable to storm surges.  The winds were pushing water toward the coast in the eastern half of the circulation of Hurricane Michael.  Some locations could have a storm surge of 10 to 15 feet (3 to 5 meters).  There have already been reports of damage due to storm surge.

An upper level trough will steer Hurricane Michael toward the northeast.  Michael will weaken as it moves inland, but it will carry hurricane force winds over northeastern Florida, extreme southeastern Alabama and southern Georgia.  The center of Hurricane Michael will pass between Dothan, Alabama and Tallahasse, Florida.  it will move toward Albany, Georgia and then pass south of Macon, Georgia.  Michael will move across South Carolina and North Carolina as a tropical storm before exiting the U.S. near Norfolk, Virginia.

Hurricane Michael will cause widespread power outages and numerous outages are already occurring in northwest Florida.  Michael will also produce locally heavy rain and flash floods could occur as it moves inland.  Wind and rain will disrupt efforts in South Carolina and North Carolina to recover from the effects of Hurricane Florence.

One of the most unusual aspects of Hurricane Michael was that it intensified rapidly right up until it made landfall in northwest Florida.  In the past most major hurricanes weakened while they approached the coast along the northern Gulf of Mexico.  Those hurricanes encountered drier air and more vertical wind shear and they weakened.  The Sea Surface Temperatures in the northern Gulf of Mexico is 2°C to 3°C warmer than normal and that may have contributed to the rapid intensification of Hurricane Michael before landfall.  Hurricane Camille in 1969 also intensified right up until it made landfall in Mississippi.  However, Camille occurred in August, while Hurricane Michael occurred in October.

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