Satellite view of Hurricane Michael approaching the Florida panhandle on the morning of 10 October 2018. Photo: NOAA

By Bob Henson 
9 October 2018

(Weather Underground) – Just hours away from an expected Wednesday afternoon landfall, Hurricane Michael became ever stronger and more organized on Tuesday night over the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Michael’s high winds, torrential rain, and very large storm surge were pushing briskly toward the Florida Panhandle and the Big Bend region just to the east, the areas in line to experience the worst impacts. Update (2 am EDT Wednesday): Michael has been upgraded to Category 4 strength as of 2 am EDT, with top sustained winds of 130 mph. Some additional strengthening is possible before landfall.

Satellite images of Michael’s evolution on Tuesday night were, in a word, jaw-dropping. A massive blister of thunderstorms (convection) erupted and wrapped around the storm’s eye, which has taken taking a surprisingly long time to solidify. A layer of dry air several miles above the surface being pulled into Michael from the west may have been one of the factors that kept Michael from sustaining a classic, fully closed eyewall (see embedded tweet below). A closed eyewall is normally a prerequisite for a hurricane to intensify robustly, but somehow Michael managed to reach Category 3 status without one.

Based purely on the Dvorak method, which uses cloud-top temperatures from satellites to estimate hurricane strength, Michael was a Category 4 storm by Tuesday evening. Michael’s central pressure dropped from 965 mb at 1 pm EDT to 947 mb at 11 pm, another sign of robust strengthening. However, it can take a few hours for a hurricane’s winds to fully respond to changes in the inner core’s structure and pressure. A hurricane-hunter mission found flight-level winds of 130 knots (150 mph) and radiometer-estimated surface winds of 110 knots (127 mph) just after 8 pm EDT. In its 11 pm EDT advisory, the National Hurricane Center pegged Michael's top sustained winds at 125 mph, just shy of Category 4 status. Assuming that Michael maintains or improves its structure overnight, these winds are likely to increase in response, and NHC is now predicting that Michael will approach the coast as a Category 4 hurricane on Wednesday morning.

If Michael reaches the coast with top winds of at least 130 mph (minimal Category 4 strength), it will be the strongest hurricane landfall ever recorded in the Florida Panhandle, as well as along most of Florida's Gulf Coast—all the way from the Alabama border to Punta Gorda—in records going back to 1851. [more]

Florida Panhandle Bracing for Category 4 Hit from Michael


This satellite image made available by NOAA shows Hurricane Michael, center, in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, 9 October 2018 at 3:17 p.m. EDT. Photo: NOAA / AP

By Jay Reeves
10 October 2018

PANAMA CITY, Florida (AP) – Gaining frightening fury overnight, Hurricane Michael closed in Wednesday on the Florida Panhandle with potentially catastrophic winds of 145 mph, the most powerful storm on record ever to menace the stretch of fishing towns, military bases and spring-break beaches.

With more than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast warned to clear out, the hurricane’s leading edge began lashing the white-sand shoreline with tropical storm-force winds, rain and rising seas before daybreak, hours before Michael’s center was expected to blow ashore.

“I really fear for what things are going to look like there tomorrow at this time,” Colorado State University hurricane expert Phil Klotzbach said in an email.

The unexpected brute quickly sprang from a weekend tropical depression, reaching Category 4 early Wednesday as it drew energy from the Gulf of Mexico’s 84-degree waters. That was up from a Category 2 on Tuesday afternoon.

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

At 8 a.m., Michael was centered was about 90 miles (145 kilometers) from Panama City and Apalachicola, moving fast at 13 mph (21 kph). Tropical storm winds extended 185 miles (295 kilometers) from the center, and hurricane-force winds reached out 45 miles (75 kilometers).

Rainfall could reach up to a foot (30 centimeters), and the life-threatening storm surge could swell to 14 feet (4 meters).

The storm appeared to be so powerful — with a central pressure dropping to 933 millibars — that it is expected to remain a hurricane as it moves over Georgia early Thursday. Forecasters said it will unleash damaging winds and rain all the way into the Carolinas, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence’s epic flooding.

“We are in new territory,” National Hurricane Center Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen wrote on Facebook. “The historical record, going back to 1851, finds no Category 4 hurricane ever hitting the Florida panhandle.” […]

Sally Crown planned to hunker down with her two dogs in the dangerously exposed coastal town of Apalachicola, population 2,500.

“We’ve been through this before,” she said. “This might be really bad and serious. But in my experience, it’s always blown way out of proportion.”

Meteorologists watched in real time as a new government satellite showed the hurricane’s eye tightening, surrounded by lightning that lit it up “like a Christmas tree.”

“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 said. “This is going to have structure-damaging winds along the coast and hurricane-force winds inland.” [more]

Supercharged overnight, Hurricane Michael menaces Florida

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