Hurricane Michael picking up power as it heads for Florida Panhandle
Michael is forecast by AccuWeather meteorologists to make landfall over the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday.
Michael became a Category 2 hurricane as of Tuesday morning. Additional strengthening is forecast into Tuesday night.
Where is Michael forecast to track and when will landfall occur?
“We expect Hurricane Michael to make landfall near Panama City, Florida, Wednesday midday or early afternoon,” according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.
Michael is forecast to reach Category 3 hurricane strength with winds of 111-130 mph. However, some fluctuation in strength is likely prior to and during landfall.
“Historically, hurricanes that approach the Florida coast in this area tend to weaken slightly prior to landfall, but little difference in impact related to wind and storm surge is likely regardless,” Kottlowski said.
“Impacts from Hurricane Michael along the Florida Panhandle will include a dangerous storm surge, flooding rainfall and damaging winds.”
Residents and visitors are encouraged to heed all evacuation orders as they are given.
“AccuWeather predicts that Hurricane Michael’s total damage and economic impact in the U.S. will be close to $15 billion,” AccuWeather Founder and President Dr. Joel N. Myers said. “The greatest impacts will be near and east of where the hurricane’s eye makes landfall, and particularly along the coastline because of angry seas in a dangerous storm surge being driven inland by onshore winds.”
“In comparison, AccuWeather’s final damage and economic impact prediction of $60 billion for Florence was largely due to the storm’s inland flooding and damage. Due to Michael’s fast movement, inland flooding is not expected to be nearly as severe as it was with Florence. However, the greatest risk of flooding will occur in northern Florida and southern Georgia, where AccuWeather is predicting a Local StormMax™ of 12 inches,” Myers said.
“Michael will also bring the risk of flash flooding across the Carolinas, especially across eastern areas hit hard by Florence. As Michael is expected to track within 100 miles of the Carolina coastline, gales of 50-60 mph will result in additional damage. Our forecast for Michael’s ultimate economic impact factors in damage to expensive coastal resorts, costs of evacuations, lost wages, disruptions and damages to businesses, power outages, mold concerns and other health hazards in the six-month tail period following the storm as well as delays in Florence cleanup,” Myers added.
What will coastal impacts from Michael be like?
A significant amount of water will be funneled into Apalachee Bay and the stretch of coast between Cape San Blas and Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Interests in this area should be prepared for significant storm surge flooding that potentially may range between 8 and 12 feet.
If Michael arrives on schedule, during the midday or early afternoon hours on Wednesday, it would hit close to low tide, which may take some of the edge off the storm surge.
Large waves will propagate outward as Michael moves northward. Seas and surf will build, especially over the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Some overwash is likely along the west coast of the Florida Peninsula, even though the storm center is forecast to make landfall over the Panhandle.
Moderate impacts from coastal flooding can occur south of Tampa with some impact possible as far south as the Florida Keys.
Most petroleum rigs are west of the forecast path of heaviest seas and winds. Only if Michael tracks farther west than currently forecast would impacts be more severe on rigs south of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
However, precautionary evacuations would cause production to diminish and cease in some cases.
Seas of 15-30 feet with locally larger waves are forecast near and just northeast of the storm track. Swells of 10-20 feet may extend outward over much of the Gulf.
Damaging hurricane-force winds, widespread power outages, flooding rainfall and storm surge flooding will occur near and east of the eye of the storm along part of the upper Gulf coast of Florida.
As with any hurricane that makes landfall, there will be the risk of tornadoes being spawned.
The heaviest rain will tend to fall in areas that were missed by Florence and focused from the Florida Panhandle to southwestern and central Georgia to part of central South Carolina.
Adverse travel conditions may extend as far west at Interstate 85 as Michael rolls northeastward. Travel along U.S. Route 98 and I-10 in the Florida Panhandle may be dangerous and should be avoided from later Wednesday to early Thursday.
What will impacts from Michael be as the storm tracks inland?
After landfall, steering winds will guide Michael on a curved and accelerated northeastward path into Georgia, the Carolinas and then Virginia into the end of this week.
Increasing forward speed will tend to limit the duration and amount of rain.
“We expect less rain to fall with Michael, when compared to Florence,” Kottlowski said.
However, enough rain will fall to cause urban, small stream and some river flooding in the region with a general 4-8 inches of rain.
Some areas that experienced flooding from Florence are likely to face renewed flooding but perhaps on a lesser scale due to Michael’s forecast increasing speed. Some rivers may rise more swiftly than before due to the wet ground.
Another dose of heavy rain may once again saturate fields in the region, which may be another blow to agriculture.
After Michael spends several hours over land, the shield of heavy and steady rain may set up north of the center. This could put a secondary swath of flooding over part of the southern Appalachians and Piedmont areas.
Even though Michael will weaken soon after making landfall in Florida, it may continue to have enough strength to cause damaging winds and isolated tornadoes along much of its path, especially near and east of the center from Wednesday to Thursday night.
People from parts of Georgia to the Carolinas and southeastern Virginia should be prepared for power outages due to fallen trees and downed lines. Trees may topple over easily due to the saturated state of the ground.
An easterly wind will push some water toward the coasts of northeastern Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and southeastern Virginia. Interests in this area should be prepared for minor coastal flooding and overwash on low-lying roads and causeways from Wednesday through Thursday night.
As Michael accelerates, before heading out to sea, some tropical moisture will be drawn into a non-tropical storm and bring a period of heavy rain and localized flooding to the northeastern U.S prior to the end of the week.
“AccuWeather has provided forecasts and impactful warnings of severe weather with documented Superior Accuracy™ for 56 years. We have developed a unique expertise for damage and economic impact predictions by analyzing the total effects of the storm from before it hits to the immediate and post impact effects, including the six-month tail period afterward. That’s why AccuWeather has been by far the most accurate source of damage and economic losses of any source, regularly beating out financial and insurance companies and other weather sources. AccuWeather accurately predicted damage in advance of storms during the 2017 hurricane season and ahead of Florence,” Myers said.