Hurricane Michael — the Good News and the Bad News

After a brief pause in intensification Monday night, Michael is continuing to strengthen in intensity. It's currently a Category 2 hurricane, and all signs point to it intensifying into a Category 3 hurricane by later in the day on Tuesday (10/9). The westerly shear that put a pause on its development last night looks to have waned, and the system is becoming more symmetrical based on the latest satellite imagery. Michael's central pressure is also continuing to slowly fall – an indication that the system is strengthening. There doesn't appear to be much keeping Michael from continuing to intensify up until Wednesday (10/10) around noon when it will be coming onshore.

The latest NHC forecast has Michael making landfall as a major (Category 3) hurricane near the Big Bend of Florida:

Figure above: NOAA forecast positions.

Michael's impacts will be quite difference from Florence's impacts. While Michael will bring some rain when it makes landfall, the rain threat is much less than that posed by Florence. As you can see Michael, will make landfall around noon on Wednesday and be in central Georgia 12 hours later. Consequently, the predicted rainfall totals from Michael, while substantial, are much less than what occurred with Florence where many locations received upwards of 18 inches of rain.

Figure above: NOAA rainfall forecast.

That's the good news with Michael – now the bad news. Michael is likely to be a much stronger storm than Florence and consequently have much more significant wind and surge impacts. Sustained hurricane-force winds are likely for a considerable portion of the Florida Panhandle, with the largest population centers likely to be most significantly impacted being Panama City and Tallahassee.

Figure above: NOAA windspeed probabilities.

Storm surge is also going to be a very significant threat with Michael. Over 9 feet of inundation is possible for a large portion of the coastline from near Apalachicola, Florida eastward to St. Marks and then extending southeast towards Steinhatchee:

Figure above: NOAA potential storm surge.

One piece of good news is that the immediate coastline near the Big Bend of Florida is predominately state forests and wildlife refuges, so the surge won't impact a massive population. However, there are still thousands of people living near the coastline in towns like St. Marks, Apalachicola and Steinhatchee that are likely going to be devastated by surge.  

About the Author:
Dr. Phil Klotzbach has received national and international attention for his work in researching weather patterns and forecasting hurricanes. He currently is lead author on Colorado State University's Atlantic basin hurricane forecasts which he releases every year with his colleague Dr. Michael Bell. 

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