Hurricane Michael

Hurricane Michael
Category 5 major hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)
Michael 2018-10-10 1715Z cropped.jpg
Hurricane Michael making landfall on the Florida Panhandle at peak intensity on October 10
FormedOctober 7, 2018
DissipatedOctober 16, 2018
(Extratropical after October 11)
Highest winds1-minute sustained: 160 mph (260 km/h)
Lowest pressure919 mbar (hPa); 27.14 inHg
Fatalities31 direct, 43 indirect
Damage$25.1 billion (2018 USD)
Areas affectedCentral America, Yucatán Peninsula, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Southeastern United States (especially the Florida Panhandle), Eastern United States, Eastern Canada, Iberian Peninsula
Part of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season

Hurricane Michael was the first Category 5 hurricane to strike the contiguous United States since Andrew in 1992. In addition, it was the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in the contiguous United States in terms of pressure, behind the 1935 Labor Day hurricane and Hurricane Camille of 1969. It was the first Category 5 hurricane on record to impact the Florida Panhandle, and was the fourth-strongest landfalling hurricane in the contiguous United States, in terms of wind speed.

The thirteenth named storm, seventh hurricane, and second major hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, Michael originated from a broad low-pressure area that formed in the southwestern Caribbean Sea on October 1. The disturbance became a tropical depression on October 7, after nearly a week of slow development. By the next day, Michael had intensified into a hurricane near the western tip of Cuba, as it moved northward. The hurricane strengthened rapidly in the Gulf of Mexico, reaching major hurricane status on October 9. As it approached the Florida Panhandle, Michael reached Category 5 status with peak winds of 160 mph (260 km/h)[1] just before making landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, on October 10, becoming the first to do so in the region as a Category 5 hurricane, and as the strongest storm of the season. As it moved inland, the storm weakened and began to take a northeastward trajectory toward Chesapeake Bay, weakening to a tropical storm over Georgia, and transitioning into an extratropical cyclone over southern Virginia late on October 11. Michael subsequently strengthened into a powerful extratropical cyclone and eventually impacted the Iberian Peninsula, before dissipating on October 16.

At least 74 deaths had been attributed to the storm, including 59 in the United States and 15 in Central America. Hurricane Michael caused an estimated $25.1 billion (2018 USD) in damages,[2] including $100 million in economic losses in Central America,[3] damage to U.S. fighter jets with a replacement cost of approximately $6 billion at Tyndall Air Force Base,[4] and at least $6.23 billion in insurance claims in the U.S.[5][6] Losses to agriculture alone exceeded $3.87 billion.[7][8] As a tropical disturbance, the system caused extensive flooding in Central America in concert with a second disturbance over the eastern Pacific Ocean. In Cuba, the hurricane's winds left over 200,000 people without power as the storm passed to the island's west. Along the Florida panhandle, the cities of Mexico Beach and Panama City suffered the worst of Michael, with catastrophic damage reported due to the extreme winds and storm surge. Numerous homes were flattened and trees felled over a wide swath of the panhandle. A maximum wind gust of 139 mph (224 km/h) was measured at Tyndall Air Force Base near the point of landfall. As Michael tracked across the Southeastern United States, strong winds caused extensive power outages across the region.

Meteorological history

Map plotting the track and the intensity of the storm, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale[nb 1]

On October 1, a broad area of low pressure formed over the southwestern Caribbean Sea, absorbing the remnants of Tropical Storm Kirk by the next day.[1] Early on October 2, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) began monitoring the system for tropical development.[9] On the same day, the disturbance experienced a burst of convection, possibly associated with a tropical wave moving into the region, which led to a small surface low forming to the southwest of Jamaica on October 3.[1] While strong upper-level winds initially inhibited development, the disturbance gradually became better organized as it drifted generally northward and then westward toward the Yucatán Peninsula. By October 6, the disturbance had developed well-organized deep convection, although it still lacked a well-defined circulation. The storm was also posing an immediate land threat to the Yucatán Peninsula and Cuba. Thus, the NHC initiated advisories on Potential Tropical Cyclone Fourteen at 21:00 UTC that day.[10][11] By the morning of October 7, radar data from Belize found a closed center of circulation, while satellite estimates indicated a sufficiently organized convective pattern to classify the system as a tropical depression.[12] The newly-formed tropical cyclone then quickly strengthened into Tropical Storm Michael at 12:00 UTC that day.[1] The nascent system meandered before the center of circulation relocated closer to the center of deep convection, as reported by reconnaissance aircraft that was investigating the storm.[13] Despite moderate vertical wind shear, Michael proceeded to strengthen quickly, becoming a high-end tropical storm early on October 8, as the storm's cloud pattern became better organized.[14] Continued intensification occurred, and Michael attained hurricane status later on the same day.[1]

Strongest U.S. landfalling tropical cyclonesdagger
Rank Hurricane Season Wind speed
mph km/h
1 "Labor Day" 1935 185 295
2 Yutu 2018 180 285
3 Karen 1962 175 280
Camille 1969
5 Andrew 1992 165 270
6 "Okeechobee" 1928 160 260
Michael 2018
8 "Guam" 1900 155 250
Maria 2017
10
"Last Island" 1856 150 240
"Indianola" 1886
"Florida Keys" 1919
"Freeport" 1932
Charley 2004
Source: HURDAT,[15]
Hurricane Research Division,[16]
daggerStrength refers to maximum sustained wind speed
upon striking land.

Shortly afterwards, rapid intensification ensued and very deep bursts of convection were noted within the eyewall of the growing hurricane, as it passed through the Yucatán Channel into the Gulf of Mexico late on October 8, clipping the western end of Cuba at Category 2 intensity.[1] Meanwhile, a 35-nautical-mile-wide (65 km) eye was noted to be forming.[17] The intensification process accelerated on October 9, with Michael becoming a major hurricane at 18:00 UTC that day.[1] Rapid intensification continued throughout the day as a well-defined eye appeared, culminating with Michael achieving its peak intensity at 17:30 UTC that day as a Category 5 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph (260 km/h) and a minimum central pressure of 919 millibars (27.1 inHg). In just under 24 hours, its central pressure had fallen by 42 mbar (1.2 inHg). Simultaneously, Michael made landfall on the Gulf Coast of the United States near Mexico Beach, Florida, ranking by pressure as the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane to ever make landfall in the United States,[1] and making it the first Category 5 hurricane to strike the contiguous United States since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The storm was originally considered a high-end Category 4 hurricane, but post-season reanalysis (which the NHC routinely performs for every tropical cyclone in their area of responsibility) concluded that it was indeed a Category 5 hurricane at this point.[1][18]

The eye of Hurricane Michael near peak intensity, seen from the International Space Station on October 10

Michael maintained Category 5 intensity for less than one hour; once inland, Michael began to rapidly weaken, as it moved over the inner Southeastern United States, with the eye dissipating from satellite view, weakening to a tropical storm roughly twelve hours after it made landfall.[1] Moving into the Carolinas early on October 11, the inner core of the storm collapsed as the storm's rainbands became prominent to the north of the center. Later that day, Michael began to show signs of becoming an extratropical cyclone, as it accelerated east-northeastward toward the Mid-Atlantic coastline, with cooler air beginning to wrap into the elongating circulation, due to an encroaching frontal zone;[19] it became extratropical at 00:00 UTC October 12.[1] Afterward, Michael began to restrengthen while moving off the coast, due to baroclinic forcing. Michael subsequently accelerated towards the east, strengthening into a powerful extratropical cyclone by October 14.[20] On October 15, Michael's extratropical remnant approached the Iberian Peninsula and turned sharply towards the southeast,[21] making landfall on Portugal early on October 16. Soon afterward, Michael's extratropical remnant absorbed the remnants of Hurricane Leslie to the east, following a brief Fujiwhara interaction.[22] Afterward, Michael's remnant quickly weakened, dissipating over Spain later on the same day.[23][22][24]

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