In less than 24 hours, it is feasible that the first Category 4 hurricane to hit the U.S. in 14 years will make landfall. The last one was Hurricane Charley in 2004. Now, Hurricane Michael has its eye set on the Florida panhandle and seems to be zoning in on Panama City. It is currently churning about 200 miles off the coast of Florida, and its current sustained winds are 130 mph and moving N at 12 mph. The above Longwave Infrared imagery GIF shows the location the coldest cloud tops (white and pink colors), thus depicting the strongest thunderstorms. The northern and eastern sides of the eyewall have quickly intensified over the past hour and a half around the very well defined eye.
While the eye will pass very close to Panama City Beach, the most extensive damage will probably occur in the Apalachicola and East Bay areas due to storm surge. Many parts of Franklin and Wakulla counties will experience storm surge greater than 9 feet above ground. This is also possible for the southern part of Jefferson county and northeastern Taylor county. The northeastern side of the storm typically packs the biggest punch considering the counterclockwise winds help spin up more tornadoes in this quadrant than any of the other quadrants, contains the highest windspeeds, and causes the worst storm surge inundation. This can change based on the trajectory of the storm and the topography of the area, but these effects are exactly what residents from St. Vincent Sound to Port Leon along Route 98 can expect. St. George Island residents will experience the full force of Hurricane Michael’s NE quadrant, so it is wise to board up and ship out faster than already done.
Inland areas that don’t experience flooding from storm surge could still see flooding rains. Predicted amounts range from 6-10 inches on the high end. These amounts are possible for Florida, extreme southeastern Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas.
Hurricane Michael is predicted to be a Tropical Storm long after it makes landfall and even as it re-enters the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. This will extend the potential for damaging winds and flooding through Alabama, Georgia, South and North Carolina, and Virginia. As panhandle residents evacuate, it would be best to head North toward Birmingham, AL., if you are located West of Tallahassee, and head East or Southeast toward Jacksonville and Orlando, FL., if you live East of Tallahassee.
As noted above, most of the panhandle is highly likely (between 90-100% chance) to experience tropical storm force winds. These winds can cause power outages and toss light objects with large surface areas, so be sure to bring in the trashcans and anchor the trampolines or they may become flying projectiles and cause further damage to life and property.
Yes, if this hurricane continues as predicted in both path and intensity, it will be an extremely dangerous storm. Yes, human lives will be in danger, and property will be damaged. And yes, it would be best to evacuate as long as authorities still allow it. If you live on the coast of the panhandle or in a low lying area close to the coast, there’s no question about it: leave and seek shelter elsewhere if possible. Mandatory evacuations are in place for the Florida panhandle, and states of emergency have been declared in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia.
For those that choose to stay, DO NOT use the portable generator inside of the house or garage. Carbon monoxide build-up from the generator is odorless and kills numerous people every year. You won’t know you’re in danger until it is already too late. Store shelves are most likely empty, so make sure you have filled up a clean bathtub with clean water for boiling and washing yourself. Those that live in mobile homes should ask to seek shelter at a local church or other well built, elevated building. If you must drive during or after the storm and come across a flooded road, TURN AROUND and DON’T DROWN. You never know if the road is washed out underneath the water.
At the end of the day, stay safe and be wise. Many people are praying for the safety of you and your family.