Hurricane Michael Makes Landfall Near Mexico Beach, Florida

by Kim Boateng Posted on October 10th, 2018

Miami, Florida, USA :  Hurricane Michael made landfall today near Mexico Beach, Florida as the most powerful hurricane on record to hit Florida’s Panhandle.

Supercharged by abnormally warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday with potentially catastrophic winds of 155 mph, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the U.S. mainland.

Michael came ashore near Mexico Beach, a tourist town about midway along the Panhandle, a lightly populated, 200-mile stretch of white-sand beach resorts, fishing towns and military bases.

Its winds roaring, it battered the coastline with sideways-blown rain, powerful gusts and crashing waves, swamped streets, bent trees, stripped away limbs and leaves and sent building debris flying. Explosions apparently caused by transformers could be heard.

“The window to evacuate has come to a close,” Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long said.

The brute quickly sprang from a weekend tropical depression, becoming a furious Category 4 by early Wednesday, up from a Category 2 less than a day earlier.

“I’ve had to take antacids I’m so sick to my stomach today because of this impending catastrophe,” National Hurricane Center scientist Eric Blake tweeted as the storm — drawing energy from the Gulf’s unusually warm, 84-degree water — grew more scary.

More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were urged to evacuate. But emergency authorities lamented that many people ignored the warnings and seemed to think they could ride it out.

Diane Farris, 57, and her son walked to a high school-turned-shelter near their home in Panama City to find about 1,100 people crammed into a space meant for about half as many. Neither she nor her son had any way to communicate because their lone cellphone got wet and quit working.

“I’m worried about my daughter and grandbaby. I don’t know where they are. You know, that’s hard,” she said, choking back tears.

Hurricane-force winds extended up to 45 miles (75 kilometres) from Michael’s centre. Forecasters said rainfall could reach up to a foot (30 centimetres), and the life-threatening storm surge could swell to 14 feet (4 metres).

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

Meteorologists watched satellite imagery in complete awe as the storm intensified.

“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.”

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

Scientists say global warming is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme weather, such as storms, droughts, floods and fires. But without extensive study, they cannot directly link a single weather event to the changing climate.

With Election Day less than a month away, the crisis was seen as a test of leadership for Scott, a Republican running for the Senate, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for governor. Just as Northern politicians are judged on how they handle snowstorms, their Southern counterparts are watched closely for how they deal with hurricanes.

Hours ahead of landfall, seawater was already lapping over the docks at Massalina Bayou near downtown Panama City, and knee-deep water was rising against buildings in St. Marks, which sits on an inlet south of Tallahassee, Florida’s capital.

Huge waves pounded the white sands of Panama City Beach, shooting frothy water all the way to the base of wooden stairs that lead to the beach.

More than 5,000 evacuees sought shelter in Tallahassee, which is about 25 miles from the coast but is covered by live oak and pine trees that can fall and cause power outages even in smaller storms.

Only a skeleton staff remained at Tyndall Air Force Base, situated on a peninsula just south of Panama City. The home of the 325th Fighter Wing and some 600 military families appeared squarely targeted for the worst of the storm’s fury, and leaders declared HURCON 1 status, ordering out all but essential personnel.

The base’s aircraft, which include F-22 Raptors, were flown hundreds of miles away as a precaution. Forecasters predicted 9 to 14 feet of water at Tyndall.

Evacuations spanned 22 counties from the Panhandle into north-central Florida.

“We’ve told those who stayed to have their life jackets on when the storm comes,” Tress Dameron, Franklin County emergency management co-ordinator, told The News Herald in Panama City.

In St. Marks, John Hargan and his family gathered up their pets and moved to a raised building constructed to withstand a Category 5 after water from the St. Marks River began surrounding their home.

Hargan’s 11-year-old son, Jayden, carried one of the family’s dogs in a laundry basket in one arm and held a skateboard in the other as he waded through calf-high water.

Hargan, a bartender at a riverfront restaurant, feared he would lose his home and his job to the storm.

“We basically just walked away from everything and said goodbye to it,” he said, tears welling up. “I’m freakin’ scared I’m going to lose everything I own, man.”

EARLIER : Hurricane Michael Now Category 4 En Route Florida

At 500 AM EDT, the eye of Hurricane Michael was located near latitude 28.3 North, longitude 86.5 West. About 140 miles south-southwest of Panama City Florida, and about 130 miles southwest of Apalachicola Florida.

Michael is moving toward the north near 13 mph. A turn toward the north- northeast is expected this morning, with a turn toward the northeast expected this afternoon or tonight. A motion toward the northeast at a faster forward speed is forecast on Thursday and Friday.

On the forecast track, the eye of Michael is expected to move ashore over the Florida Panhandle later today, move northeastward across the southeastern United States tonight and Thursday, and then move off the Mid-Atlantic coast away from the United States on Friday.

Reports from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate that maximum sustained winds have increased to near 140 mph with higher gusts. Michael is an extremely dangerous category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Some additional strengthening is possible before landfall. After landfall, Michael should weaken as it crosses the southeastern United States.

Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 45 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 185 miles.

NOAA buoy 42039 to the northeast of the center recently reported sustained winds of 54 mph and a wind gust of 63 mph.

The estimated minimum central pressure based on Hurricane Hunter aircraft data is 943 mb (27.85 inches).

A Storm Surge Warning is in effect for… * Okaloosa/Walton County Line Florida to Anclote River Florida

A Storm Surge Watch is in effect for… * Anclote River Florida to Anna Maria Island Florida, including Tampa Bay

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for… * Alabama/Florida border to Suwannee River Florida

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for… * Alabama/Florida border to the Mississippi/Alabama border * Suwanee River Florida to Chassahowitzka Florida * North of Fernandina Beach Florida to Surf City North Carolina

A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect for… * Chassahowitzka to Anna Maria Island Florida, including Tampa Bay * Mississippi/Alabama border to the Mouth of the Pearl River * Surf City North Carolina to Duck North Carolina * Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds

Storm Surge: The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline. The water has the potential to reach the following heights above ground if peak surge occurs at the time of high tide…
Tyndall Air Force Base FL to Keaton Beach FL…9-13 ft

Okaloosa/Walton County Line FL to Tyndall Air Force Base FL…6-9 ft

Keaton Beach FL to Cedar Key FL…6-9 ft

Cedar Key FL to Chassahowitzka FL…4-6 ft

Chassahowitzka to Anna Maria Island FL including Tampa Bay…2-4 ft

Rainfall: Michael is expected to produce the following rainfall amounts through Friday…

Florida Panhandle and Big Bend, southeast Alabama, and portions of southwest and central Georgia…4 to 8 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 12 inches. This rainfall could lead to life-threatening flash floods.
The remainder of Georgia, the Carolinas, and southern Virginia…3 to 6 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 8 inches. This rainfall could lead to life-threatening flash floods.
Florida Peninsula, eastern Mid Atlantic, southern New England coast…1-3 inches.

Hurricane Michael strengthened to a Category 4 storm early Wednesday as it barreled toward Florida’s northern Gulf Coast, threatening catastrophic storm surge, torrential rain and heavy winds.

“This storm can kill you,” Gov. Rick Scott warned on Tuesday.

“If there is an evacuation order go to safety,” he said, adding that Hurricane Michael is forecast to be the most destructive storm to hit the Florida Panhandle in decades.

The storm is expected to move across the eastern Gulf of Mexico through Wednesday morning and make landfall in the Panhandle by the afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.

The National Hurricane Center said in a 2 a.m. advisory that Michael’s top sustained winds had risen to 130 mph and that some additional strengthening is expected before Michael wallops the area with “life-threatening” storm surge, heavy rainfall and possible tornadoes.

Hurricane-force winds will extend 45 miles from the center of the storm, the center said. The hurricane center called Michael “extremely dangerous.”

Hurricane-force winds will extend 45 miles from the center of the storm, the center said. The hurricane center called Michael “extremely dangerous.” #HurricaneMichael has strengthened to a major Cat. 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph. This #GOESEast imagery shows the hurricane less than 300 miles south of Panama City, Florida. — NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) October 9, 2018

“Some hurricane force winds are going to go well-inland,” said FEMA official Jeff Byard, adding that Florida’s power structure will likely take a greater hit than the Carolinas did during Hurricane Florence.

Scott on Tuesday morning urged residents in the path of the storm to evacuate, saying the effects of the storm would start well before landfall.

“Hurricane Michael is a monstrous storm. The forecast keeps getting more dangerous,” he said.

Scott said he was most worried about the forecasted “absolutely deadly” 8 to 12 feet of storm surge expected, even in areas not on the coast.

“Water will come miles inshore and could easily be over the roofs of houses,” Scott said.

“You cannot hide from storm surge so get prepared and get out if an evacuation is ordered,” he said. “Remember, we can rebuild your house, but we cannot rebuild your life.”

He said 2,500 National Guardsmen are prepared to help.

Because tropical storm- and hurricane-force winds, as well as other effects, extend far from the center of the storm, time is running out to prepare, forecasters warned.

“Everything needs to be complete today,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said in a briefingposted to Facebook Tuesday evening. “You need to be in your safe place, because this thing is on the way. It’s a very dangerous situation.”

Some people in and outside of mandatory evacuation zones in Florida said they planned to stay and ride out the hurricane. Teri Vega, 53, her husband and her 12-year-old daughter said they will stay in Panama City Beach despite the order.

“We have a fairly new house,” Vega told reporters before Michael strengthened to a Category 4 storm.

“It was built really well. We put the hurricane shutters up. We have tubs of water in each of the bathrooms so that we can still flush. We have a generator. We have a gas grill. Tons of canned food, water, Gatorade.”

Missy Theiss, 54, of Panama City, said she lives just outside a mandatory evacuation zone, and planned to stay because they have five animals — two cats and two small dogs, as well as her son’s pit bull.

“Nobody is going to let a pit bull into a shelter,” Thiess said in a phone interview before Michael was upgraded. “We’ve got five animals here. I’m not leaving them. Point blank. I’m not leaving them.” Thiess said the family is prepared with water, food and a generator.

On Monday, Scott requested that President Donald Trump declare a pre-landfall emergency for the state, and declared a state of emergency in 35 counties. Trump signed the state of emergency Tuesday.

Government offices will close in those counties, and while Tuesday was the deadline for Floridians to register to vote, residents will be allowed to register on the day those offices reopen, according to a statement from the secretary of state. The Florida Democratic Party filed a lawsuit Tuesday saying that the one-day extension was insufficient and confusing.

By Friday, the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend, southeast Alabama and southern Georgia could all see 4 to 8 inches of rain, with some areas getting a foot, the NWS said.

Areas with a combined population of more than 3.7 million were under hurricane warnings, and areas with a population of more than 8.4 million were under tropical storm warnings Tuesday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.

Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport on the Florida Gulf Coast, Tallahassee International Airport, Pensacola International Airport and Panama City Airport said they would either close Wednesday or commercial flights would be canceled or suspended.

Eastern Georgia, the Carolinas and southern Virginia should expect 3 to 6 inches of rain through Friday, and Western Cuba should expect an additional 1 to 2 inches, the NWS said.

The Carolinas are only beginning to recover from Hurricane Florence, which left dozens dead and a trail of devastation last month.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday warned that while Hurricane Michael is not expected to be as devastating as Florence, it could bring tropical-storm-force winds and between 2 to 5 inches of rain in some parts. The wind will be strong enough to rip tarps off homes damaged in Florence, he said. Most of the at least 49 deaths blamed on Florence or its aftermath occurred in North Carolina.

“I know people are fatigued from Florence. But don’t let this storm catch you with your guard down,” Cooper said.

 

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Kim Boateng

Kim Boateng

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