Michael is forecast to become the second hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. in a month as it heads toward Florida with winds of 90 miles per hour.
The fast-moving storm has already sent cotton prices to a one-week high and shut-in some oil and natural-gas production in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. Michael is expected to move across the eastern Gulf before making landfall on the Florida panhandle. Currently a Category 1 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale, it could increase to a 2 or 3 by the time it reaches the U.S. on Wednesday.
“The center of Michael is expected to move inland over the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend area on Wednesday, and then move northeastward across the southeastern U.S. Wednesday night and Thursday,” the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an advisory at 5 a.m. New York time.
The storm could generate a 12-foot (3.7-meter) surge, and 4-8 inches of rain in the region, with isolated areas getting as much as 12 inches. Michael is arriving after Florence hit North Carolina on Sept. 14, causing devastating floods, killing at least 39 and causing about $45 billion in estimated damages. Duke Energy Corp. warned customers in the region to prepare for potential outages.
Michael is now about 420 miles (680 kilometers) south of Panama City, Florida. While it’s currently producing maximum sustained winds of 90 miles per hour, the “major” listing means it holds the potential for 111 mile-per-hour winds. On Sunday, Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for the region, and at least three counties announced mandatory evacuation orders Monday. Alabama also declared a state of emergency Monday afternoon.
“This storm will be life threatening and extremely dangerous,” Scott said. “Everybody’s got to get ready.” While the state’s panhandle is more sparsely populated than many other areas, it includes the capital city of Tallahassee, Pensacola and Panama City.
Most citrus plantations in Florida are in the lower two-thirds of the peninsula, away from the storm’s path. Still, heavy rain could create difficulties for the U.S. Southeast cotton harvest. Georgia had collected only 6 percent of its crop as of Sept. 30 and Alabama had reaped 5 percent, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show.
After making landfall in the Panhandle region, the storm is forecast to bend back across Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina later in the week, ending up back in the Atlantic.
Here’s the latest on the storm’s effects:
- About 57,000 homes that would cost more than $13 billion to rebuild are at risk from Michael, according to CoreLogic, a property analytics firm in Irvine, California
- Hurricane warnings are in effect from Suwannee River, Florida, to the Florida-Alabama border, and a hurricane watch is in effect from for the entire coast of Alabama
- Operators evacuated 10 platforms, moved 5 rigs out of the storm’s path and shut in 19 percent of oil and 11 percent of natural gas output in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Interior Department
- 324,190 barrels a day of oil production and 283.88 mmcf/day of gas is shut in
- Cotton futures in New York rose 1.9 percent to a one-week high
- Michael will miss most of the Gulf’s coastal oil refineries, which are further west
- Florida State University campuses in Tallahassee and Panama City are closed through Friday
The Atlantic had produced 13 named storms this year. They include Hurricane Florence, the most powerful one so far this year, and Tropical Storm Gordon, which made landfall on the Alabama-Mississippi border last month.
The panhandle region has suffered significant storm damage in the past, hit by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Hurricane Dennis in 2005. In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill hit Pensacola Beach, hurting the fishing and tourism industries.
The area is also home to a number of military bases, including the Naval Air Station at Pensacola and Eglin Air Force Base.
A new tropical depression, 15, has formed in the eastern Atlantic and poses no immediate threat to land. It will be given a proper name once it reaches tropical storm strength.
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