Michael made landfall Wednesday afternoon near Panama City Beach on the Florida Panhandle as a Category 4 hurricane, the strongest storm on record to strike the area. Michael weakened to a tropical storm as it passed through Georgia on Wednesday night.

The fast-moving storm is not expected to linger over land, so rainfall should be less of a problem than storm surge in the vulnerable Panhandle and Big Bend regions.

Michael wasn’t organized enough to merit a name until Sunday, but it intensified quickly in the warmer-than-usual Gulf of Mexico and became the Atlantic season’s seventh hurricane on Monday.

It continued to strengthen as it neared the coast, energized by increasingly warmer water. On Wednesday morning, it reached Category 4, with sustained winds of 145 mph.

Sea surface temperature anomaly

4°C

cooler

than normal

4°C

warmer

than normal

normal

Miss.

Ala.

Ga.

—Tallahassee

Fla.

New

Orleans

Tampa—

Miami

Havana

CUBA

Cancun

MEXICO

200 MILES

Sea surface temperature anomaly

4°C cooler

than normal

4°C warmer

than normal

normal

Texas

La.

Miss.

Ala.

Ga.

U.S.

—Tallahassee

Houston

Fla.

New Orleans

Tampa—

U.S.

Miami

BAHAMAS

Havana

CUBA

Cancun

200 MILES

MEXICO

Sea surface temperature anomaly

4°C cooler

than normal

4°C warmer

than normal

normal

Texas

La.

Miss.

Ala.

Ga.

U.S.

—Tallahassee

Houston

Fla.

New Orleans

Tampa—

MEXICO

Miami

BAHAMAS

Havana

CUBA

Cancun

200 MILES

Storm surge is worst on the east side of a north-moving hurricane such as Michael, where the strongest wind acts like a bulldozer shoving water toward land.

Storm surge along coast

Land

Water

Storms in the northern hemisphere rotate counter-clockwise. The rotational direction of the winds, as well as the storm’s forward movement causes water to surge strongest in the front right quadrant of the storm.

Animation represents a generic hurricane.

Storm surge along coast

Land

Water

Storms in the northern hemisphere rotate counter-clockwise. The rotational direction of the winds, as well as the storm’s forward movement causes water to surge strongest in the front right quadrant of the storm.

Animation represents a generic hurricane.

Storm surge along coast

Water

Land

Storms in the northern hemisphere rotate counter-clockwise. The rotational direction of the winds, as well as the storm’s forward movement causes water to surge strongest in the front right quadrant of the storm.

Animation represents a generic hurricane.

This area of Florida is particularly susceptible to storm surge because the water is so shallow. Unlike some areas where the coast drops off quickly, the continental shelf here slopes gradually out for 70 to 90 miles. A big rush of wind-driven water has little to slow it as it rolls onto land.

Potential storm surge flooding

above ground level

9 feet

6 feet

3 feet

1 foot

FLORIDA

Panama

City

—Wewahitchka

11 a.m.

Wednesday

Port St. Joe—

Apalachicola

20 MILES

Note: Above ground level describes the water level of the flooding that moves inland due to the combined effect of storm surge and tide.

Potential storm surge flooding above ground level

9 feet

6 feet

3 feet

1 foot

Tallahassee

FLORIDA

Panama

City

Medart

—Wewahitchka

11 a.m.

Wednesday

Mexico Beach

—Carrabelle

Port St. Joe—

10 MILES

Apalachicola

Note: Above ground level describes the water level of the flooding that moves inland due to the combined effect of storm surge and tide.

Tallahassee

Potential storm surge flooding

above ground level

9 feet

6 feet

3 feet

1 foot

FLORIDA

Panama City

Medart

Wewahitchka

11 a.m.

Wednesday

Mexico Beach

10 MILES

—Carrabelle

Port St. Joe—

Apalachicola

Note: Above ground level describes the water level of the flooding that moves inland due to the combined effect of storm surge and tide.

John Muyskens, Tim Meko, Laris Karklis, Bonnie Berkowitz and Lauren Tierney contributed to this report.

About this story

Storm path data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Sea surface temperature anomaly data from NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch.

Originally published Oct. 8, 2018.

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