What to expect from Hurricane Michael UPDATED

Atlantic Hurricane Michael will be a memorable, destructive, storm. It is currently about 250 miles south of Florida, and will likely hit the Florida Panhandle the hardest, but nearby areas are at risk. As I write this, the storm is moving north with 105 kt (120 mph) winds. That makes it a stoong Category 3, aka major, hurricane.

Tuesday/Wednesday Midnight

During the wee hours of the morning, Michael will be a Category 3 storm, with winds of about 110 kt (125 mph) but with maximum gusts of 135 kt (155 mph). Tropical storm force winds will be arriving along coast, anywhere from Louisiana to the entire Gulf Coast of Florida.

Wednesday Morning

By sunrise tomorrow morning, Michael will have strengthened somewhat (winds at 110 kt, 125 mph). I’m not sure if Michael will beat any records, but it will go on the short list for how little time it take to go from a tropical disturbance to a major hurricane, and how little time it takes to go from a recognized threat to a land-falling storm. Michael may challenge our process of preparation and evacuation.

Wednesday mid day

The eye of Michael will be looming off shore by mid afternoon tomorrow, making landfall before dinner. Just at the time of landfall, the storm will be a stgrong category 3, with 110 kt (125 mph) winds, with gusts of 135 kt (155 mph).

But long before landfall, the storm will be pelting coastal and inland communities, because “landfall” isn’t the key moment in a hurricane’s life. (See this for more on that.)

Bulls Eye

The bulls eye of the storm, the middle of the range across which predictions say the eye will make landfall, has only moved a little over the last day or so. However, remember that as storms move off the ocean and onto the continent, their track can become less predictable. However, in this case, most of the different tracks predicted by the various models are similar. Also, it is my impression that Gulf storms going north at an accelerated speed into this area tend to stay on track. So, it is very reasonable at this point to suggest the following are very likely:

The center of the storm the eye, will make landfall somewhere east of Pensacola, which is at the western tip of the Florida Panhandle, through somewhere east of Tallahassee. In other words, almost all of the Florida Panhandle is in or very near the most likely spot for landfall. The exact bulls eye a this moment is ther Tyndall Air Force Base, in the immediate vicinity of Panama City Beach.

If this storm puts its eye over Panama City, would somebody please get a picture of the Hard Rock Cave sign inside the eye? I’m actually writing a piece of fiction where that exact photograph is used to make a “Welcome to Florida” post card that figures into the story. Thanks.

Anyway, of extreme relevance is this. There is about a 50-50 chance, or a little less, that the eye will come to shore in such a location that the hard-bunch front right quadrant of the storm will hit the coast at one of the worst possible places to do so in the Gulf. The front right quadrant of a fast forward moving Atlantic hurricane is where maximum damage tends to happen. There are three reasons.

1) A storm with 100 mph wind swirling around the center, but moving forward at 20 mph, can have 120 mph winds in the front right quadrant.

2) All the things that cause a storm surge are maximized in the front right quadrant of an Atlantic hurricane.

3) Even the rainfall is probably greater in the front right quadrant, because this is the part of the hurricane where the corpus of the storm has spent the most time over warm sea water, picking up moisture.

Now we add the coastal effect. When a storm surge moves against the coast, if the coast itself is funnel shaped, or embayed, the surge is narrowed down and concentrated.

If the eye of Michael comes ashore near Apalachicola or to the east a bit, the right front quadrant would be facing into a bight, the embayed area that forms part of the armpit of Florida. Within that bight, at a much smaller scale, are numerous estuaries that run perpendicular to the coast without a lot of barrier island protecting them. There is a very large area where the National Weather Service, which by the way the Trump Appointed Secretary of Commerce (NOAA is within the Commerce Department), who also owns a private weather company, wants to essentially shut down, estimates possible storm surge of over 9 feet. Like this:

Inland, the storm will move quickly north and east, and by the end of the week, tropical storm force winds will be up in the Canadian Maritimes. Within 24 hours of landfall, the wet and windy remnants of Michael will be menacing the region previously flooded by Florence. The storm will probably punch back out into the Atlantic in coastal Virginia or North Carolina.

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