Hurricane Michael Is ‘Potentially Catastrophic’ Category 4 Storm Hours Before Landfall

October 10, 2018 Updated: October 10, 2018

Hurricane Michael is a Category 4 storm as it approaches landfall along the Florida Panhandle, where it could become the strongest storm to hit the United States this year.

Michael’s leading edge careened onto northwest Florida’s white-sand beaches Wednesday, Oct. 10, lashing the coast with tropical storm-force winds and rain and pushing a storm surge that could cause catastrophic damage well inland once it makes landfall.

National Hurricane Center (NHC) meteorologist Dennis Feltgen predicted ground zero for landfall would be Bay County (Panama City) on Wednesday afternoon.

Feltgen urged people in the Panama City area, as well as surrounding area in Crawfordville and Tallahassee “need to be in a safe place within the next hour or two, and then stay there for the duration.”

The sheriff in Panama City’s Bay County issued a shelter-in-place order before dawn Wednesday, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted that for people in the hurricane’s path, “The time to evacuate has come and gone … SEEK REFUGE IMMEDIATELY.”

Hurricane Michael forecast cone
 This graphic shows an approximate representation of coastal areas under a hurricane warning (red), hurricane watch (pink), tropical storm warning (blue) and tropical storm watch (yellow). (NOAA)

The NHC described Michael as “extremely dangerous,” saying it will bring life-threatening storm surge, hurricane force winds, and heavy rainfall along the northeastern Gulf Coast.

“Potentially catastrophic Hurricane Michael heading toward the Florida Panhandle. … Life-threatening storm surge …Hurricane force winds and heavy rainfall imminent,” the NHC stated in Hurricane Michael Intermediate Advisory Number 15A, dated 7:00 a.m CDT, Oct. 10, 2018.

Hurricane Michael key messages
NHC Key messages for Hurricane Michael, published as part of Advisory 15, currency 4:00 a.m. CDT, Oct. 10, 2018. (NOAA)

If Michael makes landfall as a Category 4, it will be the strongest hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle in recorded history, according to CNN meteorologist Michael Guy.

The NHC said Michael had maximum sustained winds of 145 mph early Wednesday, and clocked the pace of present movement at 13 mph.

“We are in new territory,” Feltgen wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday. “The historical record, going back to 1851, finds no Category 4 hurricane ever hitting the Florida Panhandle.”

Life-Threatening Surf and Rip Currents

Observers at the Apalachicola Tide Station reported water levels rising to 4.83 feet, and said “significant impacts beginning to affect Apalachicola, Indian Pass, and Eastpoint,” according to NWS Tallahassee.

NHC warned that swells generated by Michael will affect the coasts of the
eastern, northern, and western Gulf of Mexico during the next day
or so, and are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.

Tornado Watch Warning in Effect

The News Weather Service (NWS) Storm Prediction Center has issued a tornado watch for parts of North Florida and Peninsula Southwest Georgia coastal waters.

“A few tornadoes will be possible across parts of the Florida Panhandle and the northern Florida Peninsula through this afternoon. This risk will spread into parts of central and southern Georgia and southern South Carolina this afternoon and tonight,” the NHC wrote.

Tornado Watch
Tornado Watch Number 406. (NOAA)

NWS Tallahassee published a peak winds chart showing maximum sustained winds over the last 12 hours.

“Values will only increase over the next few hours as #HurricaneMichael moves ashore late this morning or early this afternoon. If you haven’t left the coast it’s too late, its time to hunker down!” the weather service wrote.

Evacuation Orders In Effect

Florida officials said more than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast had been urged or ordered to evacuate.

Evacuations spanned 22 counties from the Florida Panhandle into north central Florida.

Authorities feared many residents may have failed to heed calls to get out of the way as the hard-charging storm intensified.

“I guess it’s the worst-case scenario. I don’t think anyone would have experienced this in the Panhandle,” meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com told The Associated Press. “This is going to have structure-damaging winds along the coast and hurricane force winds inland.”

people lay sandbags to prepare for Hurricane Michael
Krystal Day, of Homosassa, Fla., (L), leads a sandbag assembly line at the Old Port Cove restaurant, Oct. 9, 2018, in Ozello, Fla. Employees were hoping to protect the restaurant from floodwaters as Hurricane Michael continues to churn in the Gulf of Mexico heading for the Florida panhandle. (Chris O’Meara/AP Photo)

Residents can search by address or check the map to see whether they are in a designated evacuation zone, according to the Florida Disaster website.

The Florida Disaster website on Oct. 9 said that parts or all of Bay County, Citrus County, Franklin County, Dixie County, Gulf County, Jackson County, Levy County, Okaloosa County, Taylor County, Wakulla County, and Walton County have been issued mandatory evacuation orders.

Escambia County, Santa Rosa County, Pasco County, Madison County, Liberty County Leon County, Hernando County, Gadsden County, and Calhoun County are under voluntary or phased evacuation orders.

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