Michael in historical terms

Radar image of Michael at landfall near Mexico Beach – own photo

As a veteran albeit amateur Hurricane watcher, I have a lot of adjectives to describe Michael. Let’s start   with historic, once-in-a-lifetime, scary, frightening, etc, etc. Below we’ll attempt to begin framing an educated discussion of this storm as we seek to create a dialogue about its impact in the coming weeks and months.

In historically assessing Michael, we’ll have to look at the rapid intensification, the continued strengthening over relatively colder waters, and the growing the danger of October storms.  In comparing it to other Florida storms, if possible we’ll need to assess how the narrowing wind field after rapid intensification mirrored that of Charley and Andrew. In contrast, storms like Wilma, Ivan and Irma weakened close to land and thus opened a larger swath of a wind field, impacting more people ultimately than Michael, Charley and Andrew, albeit with far less intensity.

With a central pressure 919 MB, Michael is the second most intense storm to ever make landfall in Florida, behind the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane that we speak of often here at TFS. Much like 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, I fully expect Michael which officially made landfall as a Category 4 storm to be eventually reclassified as a Category 5 storm.  On that front we also will need to asses in the coming months why the forecast modeling for this storm was so perfectly accurate in terms of track but so wildly inaccurate in terms of forecasting intensity. The more reliable model runs from Monday morning forecast incredibly accurately landfall on Wednesday between Panama City and Apalachicola. That’s remarkable 48 hours out, and they also completely got right the slight turns to the NNW and then NNE that occurred. They however had the storm making landfall either as a strong Cat 2 or weak Cat 3.

I want to add a word of caution for our friends up north  in other states, we need to remind folks that  Camile, the only storm stronger than Michael to ever make landfall on the landmass of the continental US (1969 in Mississippi, but in a historic irony was long forecast to hit between Apalachicola and Panama City ) killed more people in Virginia as a Tropical Depression than in Mississippi when it barreled ashore with 190 MPH winds. Michael remains dangerous and perhaps even deadly as it heads your way. 

While in terms of where Michael made landfall, a low population may have limited fatalities, it’s also sad in a way because the Big Bend region (areas between the Apalachicola and Suwanee Rivers) is the ONLY part of the state where the political leadership irrespective of party or ideology on social issues has held the line on development. It’s also unfortunate because part of holding the line was not building perhaps more useful evacuation routes like the long debated Gulf Coast Parkway which could have been really handy in this storm or the extension of I-185 from Columbus, GA toward Tallahassee which was killed a decade ago. Perhaps the western Panhandle where bridges to nowhere were built by the likes of former House Speaker Bo Johnson, weren’t so irresponsible after all, even if they eventually went into default.

  • Hurricane Anita in 1977 was a monster Cat 5 storm that intensified rapidly in the Gulf. It came ashore in a relatively underpopulated part of the Mexican coast and ultimately didn’t cost that many lives or insured losses. We can only hope Michael is the same.
  • This was one of the most dangerous days in our state’s modern history. It was incredibly distasteful and maddening to see so many playing politics today. Regardless of where in Florida you reside, I have nothing but lasting contempt and disdain for all of you who did use today to campaign, irrespective of party or ideology. We will attempt a full inventory of those on the peninsula who showed contempt and disrespect for the Panhandle and Big Bend today, in the near future.
  •  Blounstown in Calhoun County got ravaged by one of the previous storms – Ivan with a historic tornado outbreak that cost lives and destroyed property. They hammered today by the center of Michael while it was still a Category 4.
  • The decision to relocate the airport serving Panama City further inland about a decade ago was a wise one indeed, we’re about to find out. The old airport would have been blown away and underwater almost certainly. PFN was closed and ECP now serves the area. The airport is a bit of a pain to get to, but did lure Southwest Airlines to the region (which everyone should be thankful for) and most certainly can accommodate the relief efforts sure to be needed now. Tyndall AFB may or may not be fully operational.
  • Tallahassee seems to have been fortunate as the rapid intensification of Michael, narrowed the field of Hurricane force winds, creating a buzz-saw effect for all directly in the path of the eye and more destruction but sparing in large measure Florida’s capital from the sort of damage and displacement that very well may have occurred otherwise.

One comment

  1. […] on to Michael which as we’ve chronicled the last week is a storm with historic pedigree. The rising death toll has no parallel in the history of storms that have hit the northern part of […]

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