Hurricane Michael continued to intensify during Tuesday night, bringing an unprecedentedly strong storm to the northwest Florida coast on Wednesday. This is a serious situation for the Florida Panhandle and downstream areas in southeastern Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas.
As of the National Hurricane Center’s 9am ET update, Michael had 145mph sustained winds, solidly in the range of a Category-4 major hurricane.
Perhaps most concerning, Michael’s central pressure continued to fall during the overnight hours, down to 933 millibars by Wednesday morning. This is an indication of the storm’s organization, and with Michael’s satellite appearance actually improving as the storm approaches land, some slight further intensification is possible today before landfall near Panama City. If Michael’s central pressure falls further, to 930 millibars, it would rank among the 10 most intense hurricanes to make landfall in the US on record in terms of central pressure.
Meteorologists are reacting to the rapidly intensifying storm with some measure of alarm. Mike Bettes, a meteorologist with The Weather Channel, noted on Twitter Wednesday morning that his crew was pulling out of Apalachicola, a small coastal community to the right of Michael’s projected landfall that will likely bear the brunt of the storm’s winds and surge.
My crew here in Apalachicola has decided to leave. We feel confident in the building we’re staying in is strong but not confident that US 98 will be in tact and an escape route for us after the hurricane. Better safe than sorry. #Michael
— Mike Bettes (@mikebettes) October 10, 2018
A forecaster with the National Hurricane Center, Eric Blake, said that this was “an exceptionally” serious scenario, and that even long-time residents of the Florida Panhandle had never seen a storm like this.
Exceptionally serious scenario unfolding this morning with #Michael as an intensifying category 4 #hurricane headed toward the coast – no one in that area has ever experienced a hurricane this strong there pic.twitter.com/TQfZBUAmAV
— Eric Blake ? (@EricBlake12) October 10, 2018
Blake also said he hoped that everyone had left the coast along the Florida Panhandle, as this was a “near-worst case” scenario for the region.
Michael has not garnered as much attention as some storms in recent history, such as Florence, because it has intensified rapidly during the last two days—much more than forecast models were indicating even as of this weekend. This highlights the fact that our understanding of the physical processes of hurricane intensification, and our ability to depict them in computational modeling, remain far from perfect.
Another factor with Michael is that the storm is not hitting the US East Coast or major population areas. The biggest city on the coast where it will make landfall, Panama City, has a population of less than 40,000. Further inland, Tallahassee has a population of less than 200,000. The devastation Michael will inflict on these communities over the next 24 hours will be extreme, regardless.