From first light yesterday (October 11), the full extent of the damage from Major Hurricane Michael across the Florida Panhandle and the wider region became clear — and it really was as catastrophic as we all had feared.
Although Major Hurricane Michael could be regarded as a more traditional “wind and surge” event compared to recent flood events of hurricanes Harvey and Florence, this was not just a coastal event. The trail of destruction extends far from the landfall location near Mexico Beach (pop. ~1,000) and neighboring Panama City (pop. ~36,000) and well into the state of Georgia. Whether it is from the destruction of homes in the towns near landfall, or the widespread power outages, felled trees, damaged roofs, and debris, the clean-up operation is going to be a long process. And tragically, as of Friday, October 12, eight fatalities have been confirmed, including four in Florida, one in Georgia, and one in North Carolina.
After the flood-driven impacts of Category 1 Hurricane Florence just under a month ago, yesterday’s unfolding drama from Major Hurricane Michael was dominated by damaging winds that were within touching distance of a Category 5 storm.
Major Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, at 17:15 UTC (12:15 CST) on Wednesday, October 10, as a Category 4 major hurricane — the first Category 4 or stronger hurricane to make landfall in the Florida Panhandle on record. At landfall, its maximum sustained wind speed was 155 miles per hour (250 kilometers per hour), just two miles per hour short of Category 5 classification.
Michael’s intensity at landfall has set numerous records. It becomes the strongest hurricane (by wind speed) to make landfall in the continental U.S. since Andrew in 1992 and the strongest (by wind speed) October landfilling hurricane in the continental U.S. on record. Its minimum central pressure of 919 millibars makes it the most intense hurricane (by minimum central pressure) to make landfall in the U.S. since Camille in 1969.
Michael had undergone rapid intensification of 35 knots and 46 millibars in the 24 hours up to landfall, benefiting from ideal development conditions — minimal wind shear and a warmer-than-usual Gulf of Mexico with sea surface temperatures one to two degrees Celsius above average. Its intensification was relentless right up to landfall and resulted in catastrophic damage in portions of coastline along Florida Panhandle.
Prior to landfall, more than half a million people were under evacuation orders, and more than 20 million people in five states were under either a hurricane or tropical storm warnings.