AIR: Hurricane Michael Strongest Storm to Hit Florida Panhandle on Record

October 10, 2018

Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 storm hitting Florida Wednesday with wind speeds of more than 150 miles per hour, is not just a major storm for the State of Florida, it is the strongest storm to hit the Florida Panhandle since hurricane records began, according to AIR Worldwide.

“The rapid and unexpected intensification so close to shore has been a behavior that storms are exhibiting more frequently and could be related to climate change,” said Dr. Peter Sousounis, vice president and director of meteorology at AIR.

In an update released Wednesday from the catastrophe modeling firm, AIR said while there have been several other storms in recent history that have intensified more rapidly—Wilma increased from a 70 mph tropical storm to a 170 mph Category 5 in one day—what is unique about Michael is where it occurred: just prior to landfall, in an area that has never experienced a storm of this intensity.

“Not only is Michael potentially historic for where it will make landfall, it is also unique in terms of when,” AIR said. “If preliminary reports about Michael’s landfall near Mexico Beach, Fla., are correct, Michael will be recorded as the most intense hurricane on record to have struck land in the North Atlantic basin (which includes the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean) in the month of October.”

AIR noted that to date, the strongest hurricanes impacting the Florida Panhandle were all Category 3 storms. Among them, the 1917 unnamed storm #4, hurricanes Opal 1995, Ivan 2004 (an Alabama landfall that impacted Florida), and Dennis 2005. All four storms made landfall west of where Hurricane Michael struck.

The Florida Panhandle went nearly 80 years before experiencing another major hurricane. Opal in 1995 made landfall east of Pensacola with 115 mph winds. As with Hurricane Michael, Opal made use of the extremely warm water of the Gulf of Mexico, as well as favorable upper-level conditions, and rapidly intensified to a Category 4 hurricane before weakening and making landfall as a Category 3, AIR said.

Although that storm was a major hurricane, the strongest winds were restricted to a very limited area and the coastal area of the Florida Panhandle experienced Category 2 to Category 1 winds.

AIR said Hurricane Ivan 2004 is another notable storm that made landfall in the area Hurricane Michael struck. Although it did not make landfall in Florida, Ivan’s radius of maximum wind spread well inside Florida’s borders. Ivan made landfall as a 120 mph hurricane, after undergoing multiple eyewall replacements.

Hurricane Dennis in 2005 was the last major hurricane to make landfall in northern Florida. Like Hurricane Michael, Dennis underwent an impressive period of deepening before landfall, with its central pressure dropping 37 mb in 24 hours and 11 mb in 90 minutes, AIR said.

In comparison, over the past 24 hours, Hurricane Michael’s central pressure dropped 20 mb in 8 hours. Although Dennis made landfall as a 120 mph storm, as with other storms, hurricane-force winds were limited to a small area. In the case of Dennis, Panama City—the closest large city—experienced 58 mph sustained winds and a gust of 73 mph. Michael is looking to bring far stronger winds.

Source: AIR Worldwide

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