Hurricane Michael became the most intense hurricane on record to strike the Florida Panhandle Wednesday, and among the most intense hurricanes to hit the U.S.
The storm is far from over. Heavy rain and strong winds are forecast to sweep through the Southeast Thursday before exiting the Mid-Atlantic coast Friday morning.
The storm made landfall early Wednesday afternoon in Mexico Beach, Fla., about 20 miles southeast of Panama City, as an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane. Eyewitness photos showed devastating damage in this area.
At landfall, the storm’s 155 mph peak winds ranked fourth highest on record for a hurricane hitting the continental U.S. and the pressure ranked third lowest (the lower the pressure, the stronger the storm), below even Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Katrina in 2005.
As the storm crashed ashore, winds gusted as high as 130 mph along the coast from Panama City to Mexico Beach. The storm surge inundated Apalachicola in over seven feet of ocean water, a new record.
Now the concern is Georgia, the Carolinas, southern Virginia and the southern half of the Delmarva Peninsula, where flooding rainfall is a growing threat.
11:15 p.m.: Michael likely to weaken to tropical storm overnight but possible flooding rain to spread over Carolinas
At 11 p.m., Michael’s peak winds had dropped to 75 mph and are expected to fall further overnight, which would downgrade it a tropical storm.
While damaging winds, downed trees and power outages will remain an issue in south central Georgia overnight along with flooding rain, Michael will increasingly become a rainstorm as it moves into the Carolinas by dawn and eventually toward Southeast Virginia by late Thursday.
Into Thursday, rain rather than wind will become the most pressing concern, as flash flooding could develop in the Carolinas, in some of the same areas still recovering from Hurricane Florence.
Flash flood watches cover most of South Carolina, North Carolina, Southeast Virginia and the Delmarva Peninsula. Here’s a map of projected rainfall through Friday:
(This will be our final update on Hurricane Michael on Wednesday. For news updates through the night, follow this story: Hurricane Michael live updates)
10:10 p.m.: Core of Michael progresses toward south central Georgia with ‘damaging winds still occurring’
Michael is barely holding onto hurricane status, as its peak winds have come down to 80 mph. The storm is 60 miles south-southwest of Macon, Georgia moving to the northeast at 17 mph. In its 10 p.m. update, the Hurricane Center headlined “damaging winds still occurring.”
Radar showed the storm’s rainbands have mostly departed Florida where winds are subsiding and water levels are receding. The heaviest downpours and strongest winds, associated with the storm’s core, were located between Albany and Macon, Georgia.
Just after 8 p.m., Albany reported a wind gust to 81 mph.
Moderate to heavy rainfall associated Michael extended well to the north of its core through the Atlanta area. Over the next several hours, rains should spread into Athens and Augusta
9:20 p.m.: Footage from Mexico Beach, Fla. shows structures ‘completely gone’
Chris Dolce, a digital meteorologist for The Weather Channel, found footage of before and after Hurricane Michael made landfall along a section of Mexico Beach. Houses that previously stood tall were nowhere to be found in the storm’s wake:
Prior to the storm, the National Weather Service had warned the storm surge could wash entire buildings away. This prediction appears to have been correct.
8:40 p.m.: ‘Hard to convey in words the scale of the catastrophe in Panama City’, says storm chaser
Hurricane storm chaser Josh Morgerman has chased the most intense hurricanes all over the world and is not prone to hyperbole. Here is his account of the situation in Panama City, via Twitter: “It’s hard to convey in words the scale of the catastrophe in Panama City. The whole city looks like a nuke was dropped on it. I’m literally shocked at the scale of the destruction.”
Mark Sudduth, another experienced storm chaser, tweeted similar thoughts: “Drove from Panama City almost to Mexico Beach and I can tell you this is the worst damage from wind that I have ever seen! Absolutely catastrophic! You will not believe your eyes when you see it.”
8:10 p.m.: Michael decreases to Category 1, but damaging winds battering southwest Georgia
Michael’s peak winds dropped to 90 mph as of the Hurricane Center’s 8 p.m. advisory but continued to general very strong winds in southwest Georgia as well as the northern Florida panhandle and southeast Alabama.
In Albany, Ga., winds were recently sustained at 52 mph and gusted to 74 mph.
The storm was centered 20 miles southwest of Albany, Ga. and was moving to the northeast at 17 mph.
A model simulation shows the storm’s center, which contains its strongest winds, crossing Georgia overnight from the southwest to east central - arriving in South Carolina by around 6 a.m. Thursday.
7:15 p.m.: Michael became first Category 3 hurricane to strike Georgia since 1898
While Michael’s peak winds have now decreased to 100 mph, making it a Category 2 hurricane, it arrived in Georgia as a Category 3 last hour - the first storm that strong to hit the state since 1898.
At 7 p.m., Michael was centered 35 miles west southwest of Albany, Ga., moving north-northeast at 13 mph.
Over the last hour, the Hurricane Center clocked the following wind gusts:
- Albany, Georgia airport: 67 mph
- Tallahassee International Airport: 61 mph
- Dothan, Alabama airport: 60 mph
Radar showed the storm’s core with heavy downpours and damaging winds affecting the area from around Dothan, Ala. to Albany, Ga. Moderate rain from Michael’s outer bands was even spreading into Atlanta.
Over next couple of hours the core of the storm should head in the direction of Macon, Ga. which can expect rain and wind to increase.
Over 450,000 power outages have been reported due to the storm in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.
7:05 p.m.: Stunning satellite image shows Michael’s perilous journey across Florida Panhandle
6:10 p.m.: Tropical storm-force winds clocked in Alabama and Georgia
The center of Michael has moved into extreme southwest Georgia and radar showed the storm’s core stretches to the west toward Dothan, Alabama and to the northeast toward Albany, Ga. In the last hour, Dothan observed a wind gust to 62 mph and Albany to 51 mph.
Extremely heavy rain was also affecting this zone with a flash flood warning in effect near the southeast Alabama and southwest Georgia border, including Dothan.
In Florida, where the worst of the weather was beginning to ease (especially at the coast), nearly 300,000 power outages were reported.
5:50 p.m.: As rain exits Panama City and Mexico Beach, the extent of the devastation begins to emerge
Radar shows the bulk of the rain has now moved north of the region between Panama City and Port St. Joe, which bore the brunt of Michael Wednesday afternoon.
“We have seen several building collapses in Panama City,” tweeted Marc Weinberg, a meteorologist at the scene. “The tree damage is incredible.”
Incoming photos are beginning to show the severity of the damage:
5:05 p.m.: Eye of Michael exiting Florida, still a Category 3 as it enters Georgia
More than three hours after making landfall, Michael is still packing sustained winds to 125 mph as it nears the Florida/Alabama/Georgia border. It continues to unleash violent gusts as it heads northeast at 16 mph. In the last hour, Tallahassee gusted to 69 mph and a gust to 74 mph was recorded closer to the coast.
“Although steady weakening is expected as Michael moves over the southeast U.S. through Thursday morning, hurricane-force winds will continue to penetrate inland over the Florida Panhandle, southeastern Alabama, and southwestern Georgia through this evening,” the Hurricane Center said.
Along the coast, the Hurricane Center said “water levels are beginning to recede in some locations" but it warned storm surge would continue to be a hazard.
4:30 p.m.: Remarkable NOAA satellite imagery shows lightning generated by Michael
4:05 p.m.: Storm remains potent as it heads toward southwest Georgia
Even as Michael moves farther inland, its continues to pack maximum sustained winds of up to 140 mph and has a well-defined eye. At 4 p.m., radar showed the eye of the storm about to pass over Interstate 10 in Florida’s Panhandle. It was centered about 55 miles west northwest of Tallahassee.
Torrential rains and powerful winds extend well west and north of the center, expanding over southeast Alabama and into southwest Georgia. In the coming hours, conditions will begin to deteriorate over central and eastern Georgia.
Over the past hour, the Hurricane Center compiled the following wind gust reports - mostly in the 60 to 100 mph range:
- Marianna Florida airport: 102 mph
- University of Florida/Weatherflow Mexico Beach: 83 mph
- Panama City Beach National Ocean Service: 80 mph
- Tallahassee International Airport: 71 mph
- Donalsonville Georgia: 67 mph
- Downtown Tallahassee: 63 mph
3:35 p.m.: Photos and videos reveal more severe damage from wind and storm surge
This footage from Mexico Beach, where Michael made landfall, is unbelievable. Homes are engulfed in ocean water, roofs have been sheared off and streets are rivers:
3:05 p.m.: Storm still producing wind gusts over 100 mph as eye moves inland
Michael is slowly weakening as it comes further ashore (maximum sustained winds have fallen to 150 mph) but the storm is still generating destructive winds. The Hurricane Center logged the following gusts over the last hour:
- Tyndall Air Force Base: 119 mph
- Florida State University Panama City Campus: 116 mph
- University of Florida/Weatherflow Mexico Beach: 104 mph
- Panama City Treatment Plant: 94 mph
- Panama City Beach National Ocean Service: 78 mph
It warned residents not to be fooled by the lull in winds when the eye passed over inland portions of Bay and Calhoun counties in Florida’s Panhandle. “[H]azardous winds will increase very quickly as the eye passes!,” it said.
The number of power outages in Florida was 270,000 and rising.
2:45 p.m.: Water level sets record in Apalachicola
As Michael’s winds pushed waters from the Gulf of Mexico into the coast, the observed water level in Apalachicola hit 7.63 feet, surpassing the previous record of 6.43 feet in July 2005. This means there was more than 7 feet of inundation above ground level.
Video from the region shows the storm surge waters flooding roads:
2:20 p.m.: ‘Unbelievable damage’ reported in Panama City and nearby
The 130 mph winds which hit this region have taken a severe toll based on initial photos and video coming in:
This is a scene from Mexico Beach:
Here is some video which illustrate how violent the winds were:
2:15 p.m.: Extreme wind warning expanded inland over Florida Panhandle
The eye of Hurricane Michael has charged inland just to the east of Panama City. Even though the most extreme winds, with gusts up to 130 mph or so, were expected at the coast, destructive winds will spread over nearby inland areas and remain a threat for several more hours.
An extreme wind warning is in effect for not only the zone from Panama City to Port Saint Joe along the coast but also in areas to the north and northwest:
For more details on this kind of extreme alert, see this related story: Rare ‘extreme wind warning’ posted for Hurricane Michael. Here’s what that means.
1:45 p.m.: Michael makes landfall in Mexico Beach, Fla., near Panama City, with 155 mph winds
The National Hurricane Center said Michael made landfall in Mexico Beach, Fla. with sustained winds of 155 mph, just 2 mph shy of Category 5 - around 1:30 p.m. The Hurricane Center said a wind gust of 130 mph was observed at Tyndall Air Force Base and a gust of 129 mph hit Panama City.
Hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach tweeted only three storms have hit the continental U.S. with stronger winds: the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 (185 mph winds), Camille in 1969 (175 mph winds) and Andrew in 1992 (165 mph winds).
Michael also became the strongest landfalling U.S. hurricane during the month of October.
1:25 p.m.: Waters rising and winds gusting to nearly 130 mph as landfall is underway
Tyndall Air Force Base, near where Michael is currently coming ashore, recently posted a wind gust of 129 mph.
Meanwhile, the storm surge in Apalachicola had reached around 7 feet, passing the previous record of 6.4 feet.
Here’s a view of the wind and water in Panama City taken Wednesday morning, showing a house under construction collapsing:
1:05 p.m.: Michael’s pressure is lower than Hurricane Andrew’s and third lowest on record in U.S.
The 1 p.m. report from the National Hurricane Center indicated Michael’s pressure had fallen to 919 millibars. The lower the pressure, the stronger the storm. This pressure - if unchanged at landfall - would be lower than Hurricane Andrew when it struck South Florida and Katrina when it struck southeast Louisiana. “Only two continental US hurricanes have made landfall with a lower pressure,” tweeted hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach - the 1935 Labor Day hurricane (892 millibars) and Camille in 1969 (900 millibars).
Based on its peak wind speed of 150 mph, it is the second strongest storm on record so far north, only trailing Camille, Klotzbach added.
At 1 p.m., the storm’s center was just 15 miles west-southwest of Mexico Beach and 20 miles south of Panama City, meaning landfall is likely in the next hour or so.
12:50 p.m.: Wind gusts topping 100 mph as eyewall begins to come ashore
The eyewall, the most intense part of Hurricane Michael surrounding its calm eye, is coming ashore just to the east of Panama Beach. Two reports of wind gusts over 100 mph have coming in: a gust to 106 mph in Port St. Joe and 116 mph in Mexico Beach.
12:25 p.m.: Rare “extreme wind warning” issued for zone from Panama City to Apalachicola
The National Weather Service has issued its most severe wind alert for coastal areas in parts of Florida’s Panhandle and Big Bend. The “extreme wind warning” calls for destructive winds in excess of 130 mph as Michael’s eyewall roars ashore. “This is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation,” the Weather Service said.
Apalachicola recently clocked a wind gust to 87 mph and winds are expected to keep increasing through mid-afternoon. The Weather Service advised those in the path of these winds to treat them like a tornado and to shelter in safe room.
For more details on this kind of extreme alert, see this related story: Rare ‘extreme wind warning’ posted for Hurricane Michael. Here’s what that means.
12:05 p.m.: Weather Service director - ‘This is a worst case scenario’
Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service, called for residents of the Florida Panhandle to “stay inside & survive” in a tweet just before noon, warning that Hurricane Michael’s imminent landfall is a “worst case scenario.”
The Hurricane Center’s noon advisory showed the storm just 40 miles southwest of Panama City. As the storm is moving north-northeast at 14 mph, landfall could occur within two to three hours.
Winds and water levels continued increasing. Apalachicola recently recorded a gust to 76 mph.
11:45 a.m.: Michael is still strengthening: Winds up to 150 mph.
At 11:30 a.m., the Hurricane Center sent out a special advisory indicating peak winds had increased to 150 mph, which is just 7 mph shy of Category 5.
The storm’s pressure fell further, down to 923 millibars. (The lower the pressure, the stronger the storm.) If this pressure holds, it will rank as the third lowest on record at landfall in the state of Florida and sixth lowest to strike the U.S. coast.
Along the Florida Panhandle, winds continued to ramp up as gusts hit 72 mph in Apalachicola.
11:35 a.m.: Alarm bells raised for central and east Georgia
Because Michael has become so strong so fast, the National Weather Service issued a special advisory for central and eastern Georgia warning of a “potentially historical tropical event.”
It warned of hurricane-force winds and the potential for the downing of “hundreds to potentially thousands of trees.” It also said tornadoes were possible and rainfall of more than five inches, which could cause localized flash flooding.
“With this being the tail end of Hurricane Season and with the long ordeal of Hurricane Florence for some, it can be easy to become complacent,” it cautioned. “This is not the storm to do that with!!”
11:10 a.m.: Core of Michael closing in on Florida Panhandle, life-threatening hazards ‘imminent'
In its 11 a.m. advisory, the Hurricane Center said life-threatening storm surge, hurricane-force winds and heavy rainfall were “imminent” along the coast of the Florida Panhandle. The storm was centered just 60 miles south-southwest of Panama City and headed north-northeast at 15 mph meaning landfall could occur within a three to four hours.
Winds were gusting over 60 mph at Bald Point, Fla., which is to the east of Apalachicola. Tallahassee, to the north, had clocked a gust to 46 mph. These winds will rapidly increase over the next few hours, reaching hurricane-force.
The storm’s pressure had fallen to 928 millibars, lower than Hurricane Irma when it crossed the Florida Keys. Assuming pressure don’t rise before landfall, Michael’s will rank among the top 10 lowest on record for a landfalling storm in the United States.
10:35 a.m.: Tropical storm conditions spread over Florida Panhandle as storm’s pressure tanks
Tropical storm conditions swept over Florida’s Panhandle Wednesday morning and a wind gust of 58 was clocked at Apalachicola Regional Airport between 9 and 10 a.m. The Hurricane Center also reported water levels were rising quickly at the coast.
Conditions over Florida’s Panhandle and Big Bend area are predicted to rapidly deteriorate over the coming hours. At 10 a.m., the storm’s center was just 65 miles south-southwest of Panama city, meaning the eyewall - most dangerous part of the storm with the strongest winds - could hit the coast by midday.
The storm’s pressure had fallen to 931 millibars which would rank among the lowest on record for a hurricane hitting Florida.
As Michael rapidly intensified Tuesday night and early Wednesday, forecasters on Twitter described feelings of sickness and dread. “Hurricanes that intensify overnight just before reaching land are the worst nightmare of forecasters and emergency managers,” tweeted Weather Underground’s Bob Henson.
Predicted storm effects
Both the Florida Panhandle, from Pensacola to Apalachicola, and the Big Bend area are forecast to be hardest hit. The storm surge was predicted to reach up to 14 feet potentially inundating more than 325 miles of coastline, including roads, homes and business.
Population centers that could witness some of the most severe hurricane effects include Fort Walton Beach, Destin, Panama City Beach and Apalachicola.
“#Michael will make new history for central Panhandle, Big Bend,” tweeted Rick Knabb, the Weather Channel’s hurricane expert. “Some of you could get water and wind worse than ever before.”
While the most severe hurricane conditions are expected along the coast, devastating hurricane effects are forecast to expand considerable distances inland.
“A potentially catastrophic event is developing,” wrote the National Weather Service forecast office serving Tallahassee and surrounding areas. The office warned of “widespread power outages, downed trees blocking access to roads and endangering individuals, structural damage to homes and businesses, isolated flash flooding and the potential for a few tornadoes.”
Damaging winds and flooding rain were also predicted to reach southern Georgia and southeast Alabama on Wednesday and Wednesday night.
By Wednesday night and Thursday, heavy rains from Michael are likely to streak into the Carolinas, perhaps bringing more flooding to some of the same areas still recovering from Hurricane Florence.
Waters have mostly receded but may remain elevated by several feet from Panama City to Keaton Beach, Fla. through Wednesday night.
As Michael’s eyewall continues to collapse, the most severe winds will weaken, but potentially damaging winds will still impact southwest and southwest Georgia.
While hurricane-force winds of over 74 mph will be confined to a relatively small area, tropical-storm-force winds of 39 to 73 mph will occur over a much larger zone and could result in minor structural damage and many downed trees and power outages.
The Hurricane Center projects widespread rainfall amounts of 4 to 8 inches, from the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend areas north into southeast Alabama and southwest and central Georgia, and isolated amounts of up to a foot. “This rainfall could lead to life-threatening flash floods,” it said.
Heavy rain could arrive in southern Alabama and southern Georgia early Wednesday. By Wednesday night and into Thursday, heavy rain will rapidly streak through Georgia and into the Carolinas.
Rainfall of 3 to 6 inches is likely to affect some of the areas recovering from Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas, which could lead to more flooding. Parts of eastern Georgia, southern Virginia, and the southern Delmarva Peninsula may also receive 3 to 6 inches, with isolated higher amounts.
The rain is expected to reach the eastern Mid-Atlantic late Wednesday night into Thursday before rapidly exiting by Friday, where 1 to 3 inches is most likely, with locally higher amounts.