Hurricane Michael has become the season’s second major hurricane. The latest flight from the hurricane hunters have revealed that top winds have increased to 120 mph. Satellite data suggest Michael may continue to strengthen some over the next 12 hours, and it is likely to be a Major Hurricane at landfall.
Latest Storm Information
As of the 5 pm advisory, the National Hurricane Center says the hurricane is located 295 miles south of Panama City, Florida or 270 miles south of Apalachicola. Michael is moving north at 12 mph.
Conditions will begin deteriorating just after sundown Tuesday evening. The first bands of rain should reach the Big Bend and Panhandle coasts after midnight and overspread inland areas during Wednesday morning. The arrival of tropical storm force winds -- which would cause the closure of bridges -- are likely to arrive first thing on Wednesday morning. Hurricane force winds will follow shortly after, by around midday in areas near Panama City, Apalachicola, Port St. Joe, and St. Marks.
A Storm Surge Warning has been issued from the Okaloosa/Walton County line to the Anclote River, which is near the Pasco/Pinellas county line. A life-threatening inundation of water is likely in the warned area, with the height of the water above normally dry ground potentially reaching 8 to 12 feet in areas from Indian Pass to Cedar Key. In a statement issued early Monday evening, the National Weather Service Tallahassee said water level rises this high could potentially be “catastrophic” to the northeast Gulf Coast.
Other storm surge inundation forecasts include 6 to 8 feet from Cedar Key to Crystal River, 6 to 8 feet also from the Okaloosa/Walton county line to Indian Pass, and 4 to 6 feet from Cedar Key to the Anclote River. A 2 to 4-foot surge will be possible along the coast further south in to the Tampa Bay metro area, and further west to the Alabama/Florida border.
Extreme Wind Risk
Every county in the Florida Panhandle has been placed under a Hurricane Warning, which also extends into coastal Taylor and Dixie counties. Further inland and farther south along the west coast of Florida, a Tropical Storm Warning was in effect to the Pasco/Hernando county line, and a Tropical Storm Watch extended as far south as the mouth of the Pearl River.
The Hurricane Warnings are issued when winds of 74 mph or greater are possible during the event, but also when tropical storm force winds are likely within 36 hours. When the latter arrives, it will make completing hurricane preparations nearly impossible. Due to the aforementioned uncertainties of the storm’s eventual intensity, track and structure, how extreme the winds may get at any particular location is still a bit difficult to pin down.
What is clearer, however, are when the tropical storm force winds may arrive, and we’ve listed some “most likely” times of arrivals below, from earliest to latest.
The most likely arrival times of tropical storm force (39+ mph) winds:
- Wednesday 8 am: St. Petersburg/Tampa
- Wednesday 8 am: Crystal River, Apalachicola, Panama City, Destin, Pensacola
- Wednesday Noon: Gainesville, Lake City, Tallahassee
- Wednesday 3 PM: Jacksonville
Inland Flood Risk
Hurricane Michael could produce enough rain over a short amount of time that leads to flash flooding of many low-lying areas near where the storm comes ashore. Rainfall amounts of 4 to 8 inches are expected over a large area from Panama City to Tallahassee with isolated maximum amounts up to 12 inches, potentially spreading as far east along the I-10 corridor as Lake City.
Lower rainfall amounts of 2 to 4 inches are expected along the Nature Coast and inland areas of North-Central Florida, but here too locally heavy rain could cause flooding in poor drainage areas. The story will be similar for areas west of where Hurricane Michael comes ashore, with isolated flooding possible as far west as Pensacola.
Most landfalling tropical storms or hurricanes bring with them a tornado risk, and it’s usually greatest on the right side (or in this case, the eastern side) of the storm’s track. Outer bands from Hurricane Michael could produce isolated tornadoes with little notice over portions of the Florida peninsula Tuesday night through Wednesday. Residents in these areas are encouraged to have a way of being alerted should a warning be issued.
The Florida Public Radio Emergency Network will provide hourly updates on Hurricane Michael to your local NPR affiliate, along with several live streaming updates on the Florida Storms Facebook and Twitter accounts.