Michael Strengthens to an 'Extremely Dangerous' Category 4 Hurricane

weather.com meteorologists
Published: October 9, 2018

Hurricane Michael has intensified to what the National Hurricane Center calls an "extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane." The NHC said Michael could strengthen further before making landfall in the Florida Panhandle or Big Bend region on Wednesday. The storm will cause life-threatening storm surge, drop heavy rain and is packing destructive 130 mph winds.

"A potentially catastrophic event is developing," the National Weather Service office in Tallahassee, Florida, wrote in its hurricane local statement Tuesday evening. "Locations may be uninhabitable for weeks or months."

If Michael makes landfall as a Category 4 storm, it will be the strongest hurricane to ever come ashore along the Florida Panhandle in records dating to 1851, according to Dr. Phil Klotzbach, tropical scientist at Colorado State University. In fact, Florida's entire Gulf Coast north of Punta Gorda has never recorded a Category 4-plus hurricane landfall.

(MORE: How Common Are Category 3-Plus U.S. Hurricane Landfalls in October?)

Michael is currently centered about 180 miles south-southwest of Panama City, Florida, and is moving northward at 12 mph. It has become much better organized over the last few hours.


Current Storm Status

A storm surge warning is in effect from the Okaloosa/Walton County line in Florida to Anclote River, Florida. This means life-threatening storm surge inundation is a danger in the warning area, in this case within 24 hours.

Storm surge watches are in effect from Anclote River, Florida, to Anna Maria Island, Florida, including Tampa Bay, and from the Alabama/Florida border to the Okaloosa/Walton County line in Florida. This means life-threatening storm surge inundation is possible in the watch area.


Storm Surge Watches and Warnings

A hurricane warning is posted for the Florida Gulf coast from the Alabama/Florida border to Suwanee River, Florida, including Pensacola, Panama City, Destin and Tallahassee. The hurricane warning also extends inland to southwestern Georgia, including Albany. Hurricane warnings are issued 36 hours before the anticipated arrival of tropical-storm-force winds (39-plus mph), which is when outside preparations become dangerous.

Tropical storm warnings are in effect from the Alabama/Florida border westward to the Mississippi/Alabama border, from Suwannee River, Florida, southward to Chassahowitzka, Florida, and along the Southeast coast from Fernandina Beach, Florida, to South Santee River, South Carolina. The tropical storm warning also extends inland to portions of southern Alabama and southwestern Georgia, including Mobile, Alabama, and Valdosta, Georgia. This means tropical-storm-force winds are expected somewhere within the warning area within 36 hours.

Tropical storm watches have been posted from Chassahowitzka, Florida, to Anna Maria Island, Florida, including Tampa Bay, from the Mississippi/Alabama border westward to the mouth of the Pearl River and also along the Southeast coast from South Santee River, South Carolina, to Duck, North Carolina, including Pamlico and Albemarle sounds. This means tropical-storm-force winds are possible within 48 hours.


Watches and Warnings

Interests along the northeastern Gulf Coast in the path of Michael should be finished with preparations. Follow the advice of local officials if you are ordered to evacuate, particularly if you live in a storm-surge-prone location.

(LATEST NEWS: Gulf Coast Prepares for Hurricane Michael)

Forecast

Timing

- Landfall is most likely to occur along the Florida Panhandle Wednesday afternoon.
- Conditions will begin to deteriorate by early Wednesday on the northeastern Gulf Coast.
- After landfall, Michael will then accelerate inland across the southeastern U.S. Wednesday night through Thursday night with gusty winds and heavy rain.
- Michael could enhance rainfall in the mid-Atlantic and southeastern New England Thursday night and Friday.


Projected Path

Intensity

- The National Hurricane Center says "some additional strengthening is possible today before Michael makes landfall in the Florida Panhandle or the Florida Big Bend area."

Wind

- Hurricane-force winds (74-plus mph) are expected to arrive in the hurricane warning area on the northeastern Gulf Coast Wednesday.
- Hurricane-force winds will also spread well inland across portions of the Florida Panhandle, southeastern Alabama and southwestern Georgia.
- Tropical-storm-force winds (39-plus mph) are expected to arrive in the hurricane warning area on the northeastern Gulf Coast by early Wednesday.
- Tropical-storm-force winds are most likely to arrive in the tropical storm warning area along the northeastern Gulf Coast by early Wednesday and are possible in the tropical storm watch area by that time.
- Tropical-storm-force winds are expected to arrive in the tropical storm warning area along the southeastern U.S. coast Wednesday and are possible in the tropical storm watch area by late Wednesday.


Tropical-Storm-Force Wind Probabilities

- Widespread power outages, major tree damage and structural damage will occur along the path of Michael near and just inland from where it makes landfall on the Florida Panhandle.
- Widespread power outages may extend into parts of southern Georgia and far southeastern Alabama given Michael's faster movement.
- Winds capable of power outages and at least some tree damage may extend into parts of northern Georgia and the Carolinas as well. This is a particular concern in areas where soil is still saturated from Florence's torrential rain in northeastern South Carolina and North Carolina.
- One forecast model from the University of Michigan suggests there could be at least 2 million customers without power from Michael, from Florida to southeastern Virginia.  
- Metro areas that may experience power outages include: Tallahassee, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Columbia, Greenville-Spartanburg, Charleston, Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham.


Power Outage Potential

Storm Surge

Life-threatening storm surge flooding will occur along the immediate coastline near and east of where the center makes landfall. Michael is expected to affect portions of the Florida Gulf coast that are especially vulnerable to storm surge, particularly Apalachee Bay south of Tallahassee.

The National Hurricane Center says water levels could reach the following heights if the peak storm surge arrives at high tide:

- Mexico Beach to Keaton Beach, Florida: 9 to 13 feet
- Okaloosa/Walton County line to Mexico Beach, Florida: 6 to 9 feet
- Keaton Beach to Cedar Key, Florida: 6 to 9 feet
- Cedar Key to Chassahowitzka, Florida: 4 to 6 feet
- Chassahowitzka to Anna Maria Island, Florida, including Tampa Bay: 2 to 4 feet
- Alabama/Florida border to the Okaloosa/Walton County line, Florida: 2 to 4 feet

(MAP: Potential Storm Surge Inundation Map)


Storm Surge Forecast

Here are the high tides of concern through early Thursday for a few locations in the storm surge threat area along the Florida Gulf coast (all times are local):

Panama City: 10:30 p.m. Wednesday
Apalachicola: 4:39 a.m. and 6:10 p.m. Wednesday | 4:58 a.m. Thursday
Cedar Key: 2:48 a.m. and 3:36 p.m. Wednesday | 3:18 a.m. Thursday
Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg: 2:46 a.m. and 4:06 p.m. Wednesday | 3:09 a.m. Thursday

On the southeastern U.S. coast, onshore winds and high astronomical tides will also lead to some coastal flooding this week.

Charleston Harbor is forecast to see minor to moderate coastal flooding at high tide.

Some coastal flooding will also occur as far west as the Texas coast, as was noted Monday on the Bolivar Peninsula and at South Padre Island.

Rainfall

- Rainfall totals of 4 to 8 inches are forecast from the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend into southeastern Alabama and southwestern and middle Georgia, according to the National Hurricane Center. Locally, up to a foot of rain is possible. This may cause life-threatening flash flooding in some areas.
- The rest of Georgia, the Carolinas and southern Virginia may pick up 3 to 6 inches of rain, potentially triggering flash flooding. Locally, up to 8 inches is possible. This will include some areas devastated by flooding from Hurricane Florence. That said, this system will move quickly rather than stall like Florence did and will, therefore, not bring extreme rainfall amounts. 
- The Florida Peninsula, eastern mid-Atlantic states and southern New England coast may see 1 to 3 inches of rain.


Rainfall Forecast

Tornadoes

- As is typical with landfalling hurricanes, isolated tornadoes will be a threat on the eastern side of the storm.
- A tornado threat may develop in the Florida Panhandle, the northern Florida Peninsula and southern Georgia by early Wednesday morning, persisting through the day.

Check back with weather.com throughout the week for more details on the forecast for Michael.

Storm History

Outer rainbands from Michael already soaked the Florida Keys on Monday. A wind gust to 55 mph was measured at the National Weather Service office in Key West, Florida, late Monday afternoon in association with Hurricane Michael's outer rainbands.

Michael rapidly intensified from 11 a.m. EDT Sunday to 11 a.m. EDT Monday, when its winds increased from 35 mph to 75 mph during that 24-hour period.


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