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Hurricane watches were flying for the Florida Panhandle as rapidly intensifying Hurricane Michael headed northward over the warm waters of the Western Caribbean. Michael is expected to make landfall in the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday as a Category 3 hurricane. Michael is the 13th named storm and 7th hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season. It is destined to become the fourth named storm to hit the U.S. this year, and most likely the strongest at landfall. The other three were Subtropical Storm Alberto (May 28 near Pensacola, FL), Category 1 Hurricane Florence (September 14 near Wrightsville Beach, NC), and Tropical Storm Gordon (September 4 near the MS/AL border). On average, the U.S. is hit by three named storms each year, with one of them being a hurricane. Satellite images on Monday morning showed that Michael had improved significantly in organization, with an impressive area of very heavy thunderstorms with cloud tops that were as cold as –80°C (–112°F). Cloud tops this cold can only occur if the updrafts pushing them upwards are very vigorous. Michael was beginning to close off an eye, and low-level spiral banding was improving. Michael was under a moderately high 15 - 20 knots of wind shear, due to strong upper-level winds out of the west from an upper-level trough of low pressure. The storm was embedded in a moist atmosphere with a mid-level relative humidity of 70%, and was over very warm waters of 29.5°C (85°F). These warm waters extended quite deep, and had an extremely high heat content.
Figure 2. Left: The 0Z Monday, October 8, 2018 track forecast by the operational European model for Michael (red line, adjusted by CFAN using a proprietary technique that accounts for storm movement since the time of the advisory), along with the track of the average of the 50 members of the European model ensemble (heavy black line), and the track forecasts from the “high probability cluster” (grey lines)—the five European model ensemble members that have performed best with Michael thus far. Right: Track forecasts for Michael from the 0Z Monday, October 8, 2018 run of the GFS model. The forecasts agree on a Florida Panhandle landfall, then a curve to the northeast. Image credit: CFAN.
Figure 3. Predicted wave heights for 2 am EDT Wednesday, October 10, 2018, from the 6z (2 am EDT) Monday run of the WaveWatch III model. This model, which uses the GFS model as input, predicts significant waves heights of up to 30 feet in the Gulf of Mexico. Image credit: Levi Cowan, tropicaltidbits.com
A damaging storm surge for the Florida Panhandle A Storm Surge Watch is up for much of Florida's Gulf Coast, from Tampa Bay northwestward to Fort Walton Beach. Persistent onshore winds had already created a storm surge of around 1 – 2 feet along much of the Gulf Coast from Southeast Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle on Monday morning, as seen using our wundermap with the “Storm Surge” layer turned on. There are very shallow waters along the coast where Michael is expected to make landfall, where the continental shelf extends out about 70 – 90 miles from shore. The winds from the storm will thus be able to pile up a large storm surge along the east side of the storm’s center. When this surge rides ashore at landfall, the water may reach heights of 8 - 12 feet in Florida’s Apalachee Bay, between the Florida Panhandle and the southward-jutting Florida Peninsula, since the concave-shaped coast there acts to concentrate storm surge. When Category 3 Hurricane Dennis made landfall in the western Florida Panhandle near Santa Rosa Island in July 10, 2005, it brought a storm surge of 6 - 9 feet to Apalachee Bay, which lay 170 miles east of Dennis’s landfall location. The surge inundated parts of the town of St. Marks and other nearby areas. A storm surge of 4 - 6 ft occurred elsewhere in the Florida Panhandle. High tide is between 12:30 – 1 am on Wednesday and Thursday at Pensacola, FL. There is only one high tide per day in the Gulf, and the difference between high tide and low tide is just over one foot. The high tides in the Gulf this week will not be increased by the fact that the new moon occurs on Monday. This is unlike the situation along the Southeast U.S. coast, where the new moon will bring the king tides—some of the highest tides of the year. Because of the king tides and the onshore flow of air affecting the Southeast U.S. coast from Michael, we are likely to see moderate coastal flooding in Charleston, SC during high tide Monday through Wednesday.
MONTGOMERY – Governor Kay Ivey issued a statewide State of Emergency on Monday in anticipation of wide-spread power outages, wind damage and debris produced by high winds and heavy rain associated with Hurricane Michael. Flash flooding and tornadoes are also possible with any hurricane and parts of Alabama have been placed under tropical storm watches or warnings. The State of Emergency went into effect at 3:00 pm CT.