Less than a month after facing down Florence, the U.S. faces another historic storm. Hurricane Michael is churning its way toward Florida’s Panhandle as a Category 4 monster.
As of 7 a.m. on Wednesday, the storm’s winds were roaring at a sustained 145 mph with gusts higher, according to data gathered by Hurricane Hunter aircraft. Michael was 90 miles offshore from Panama Beach and is expected to make landfall late morning or early afternoon. The threats will be manifold, but among the most dangerous will be up to 14 feet of storm surge for large parts of the coast.
Florida is no stranger to hurricanes, but there has never been a storm like Michael to hit this part of the state. Atmospheric scientist Phil Klotzbach tweeted that Michael’s 933 millibar central pressure—a key meteorological measure of intensity where lower generally means stronger—is the seventh lowest of any storm ever to reach Florida. The list of storms with lower pressures is an ignominious one, including last year’s Irma, Andrew in 1992, and the Lake Okeechobee and Great Miami hurricanes that decimated the state in the 1920s. This is not the type of company you want to keep.
The National Weather Service Tallahassee office issued a stark graphic and warning late last night to underscore what the region is facing. The statement in part reads:
“We searched the historical database for category 4 hurricanes that have made landfall in the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend. The map says it all—it’s BLANK—this situation has NEVER happened before...If you have been told to evacuate, LEAVE. Do not stay and risk your life or that of your family.”
Tropical storm-force winds have already been recorded at Apalachicola Regional Airport and rain bands are spiraling ashore. Conditions will deteriorate quickly over the coming hours. Florida Governor Rick Scott has announced that for those who didn’t or couldn’t afford to evacuate, the window to get out of Michael’s way has closed.
“If you are in a coastal area, do not leave your house,” he said at his morning briefing.
Scroll down to see our liveblog below. The Earther team will be adding updates throughout the day as more information about Hurricane Michael becomes available.
Update, 11:20 p.m. ET: Hurricane Michael made landfall as a Category 4 storm with winds as high as 155 miles per hour on Wednesday afternoon, the Washington Post reported, “leveling buildings and structures, flooding streets, and leaving a trail of destruction.” One person told the paper that Panama City, on the coast of St. Andrews Bay, looked as though it had been bombed. Storm surges in Apalachicola reportedly measured at least 7.7 feet.
Widespread destruction was reported far inland, the Weather Channel wrote:
Marianna, about 55 miles from Panama City, social media posts showed buildings with collapsed walls and torn off roofs. The police department lost its roof, too. Michael arrived in the city with gusts up to 102 mph.
Officials in Tallahassee, the state capital, tweeted that initial assessments of storm damagewere showing lots of downed power lines, power poles, and trees.
It later weakened into a Category 3 storm, with Florida Governor Rick Scott telling reporters in the early evening that search and rescue efforts had begun, the Post added. The storm began moving towards the Georgia-Alabama border, reportedly becoming the first major hurricane since 1898 to cross into Georgia.
The Post separately reported that Hurricane Michael could qualify as the third strongest hurricane to ever hit the continental U.S., with Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith telling reporters, “We’re kind of getting crushed. It’s horrific.”
In an 11:00 p.m. ET update, the National Hurricane Center wrote that the storm was now approximately 45 miles south-southwest of Macon, Georgia and moving northeast at approximately 20 miles per hour. The NHC said that maximum sustained winds remained at 75 miles per hour, putting it currently at Category 1 status.
At least one death has been reported, though officials are still assessing damage and that total could change as more information becomes available.