UPDATE 5 p.m.: Hurricane Michael strengthened to 80 mph this afternoon as it moves north at 9 mph toward Florida’s Panhandle.
It is forecast to be a Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds near landfall on Wednesday.
A hurricane warning is now in place for the Gulf Coast of Florida from the Alabama / Florida border east to the Suwanee River. A hurricane watch has been issued from the Alabama / Florida border west to the Mississippi / Alabama border.
Since 1851, Florida has had 36 hurricanes make October landfalls, including 10 major hurricanes. That’s five times higher than runner-up Louisiana, which has experienced seven October hurricane hits, including three major hurricanes, according to National Hurricane Center records.
The most recent major October hurricane to hit Florida was 2005’s Wilma.
“This has been different from a lot of the storms we’ve seen since I’ve been governor,” said Gov. Rick Scott. “It’s fast, this is coming very fast. It could speed up. It could slow down. We don’t know. And we don’t know exactly where it’s going to hit yet.”
The National Hurricane Center has upgraded Michael to a hurricane.
As of the 11 a.m. advisory, Michael had 75 mph winds and is now expected to reach Category 3 strength within 48 hours.
“Michael is forecast to be a dangerous major hurricane when it reaches the northeastern Gulf Coast on Wednesday, and life-threatening storm surge is possible along portions of the Florida Gulf Coast regardless of the storm’s exact track or intensity,” the NHC wrote in its key messages.
Florida State University is closing beginning Tuesday and will resume normal business operations on Monday.
“This one is big,” said Tessa Whitaker, who was working this morning at Harry’s Bar and Package in the small coastal town of Carabelle. “I live 4 to 5 blocks from the water, so I’m scared.”
Michael is unusual because it formed from a disturbance from the Central American monsoon, rather than a tropical wave, said Jeff Masters, Weather Underground cofounder and a meteorologist at The Weather Company, an IBM Business.
“We saw a couple of these form last year and they were just big ugly messes that had trouble getting organized,” Masters ssaid. “But Michael managed to break away and took advantage of very warm ocean temperatures.”
The National Weather Service is warning that minor flooding is possible in southeast Florida today as seasonal king tides coincide with Michael’s growing presence in the Gulf of Mexico.
South winds pulled through South Florida by the burgeoning tropical cyclone will also bring in moist tropical air, causing increasing rain and squally weather. There is up to a 10 percent chance that Palm Beach County could feel tropical storm-force winds tomorrow as Michael moves deeper into the Gulf.
High tides today are around 8:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. Tuesday’s high tides are about 9:30 a.m. and 9:45 p.m.
Tropical Storm Michael is nearing hurricane strength this morning with winds at 70 mph as of the 8 a.m. advisory. It is about 120 miles east-northeast of Cozumel and moving north at 7 mph.
Hurricane watches have been issued for areas of the Florida Panhandle from the Alabama border to the Suwanee River.
A storm surge watch has been issued from Navarre to Anna Maria Island.
The system, is forecast to reach 110 mph in the two-day forecast window, which is just 1 mph shy of a Category 3, major hurricane.
This is considerably higher than what was forecast at this time yesterday, a detail noted in this morning’s discussion from the National Hurricane Center.
“An Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft made several passes through the system during the past few hours, and somewhat surprisingly, found that the central pressure has fallen to about 983 mb and the maximum winds have increased to near 60 knots (69 mph),” wrote NHC hurricane specialist Robbie Berg. “This increase in intensity indicates that despite the shear, which has been affecting Michael, the system has, by definition, rapidly intensified during the past 24 hours.”
Rapid intensification is defined as an increase in wind speeds of 34 mph or more over a 24-hour period.
On Sunday, Michael’s cloud tops were as cold as -112 degrees.
“Cloud tops this cold can only occur if the updrafts pushing them are very vigorous,” said Weather Underground co-founder Jeff Masters in his Cat 6 blog.
Michael is forecast to make landfall in the Panhandle on Wednesday as a strong Category 2 hurricane.
The most recent October landfalling hurricane in the Florida Panhandle was Hurricane Opal – a Category 3 storm in 1995.
In 2005, Hurricane Ivan made landfall near Gulf Shores, Ala., on Sept. 16, doing severe damage to Pensacola. In 2005, Hurricane Dennis made landfall near Pensacola as a Category 3 hurricane.
University of Georgia’s Atmospheric Sciences Program Director J. Marshall Shepherd said he’s concerned the Panhandle isn’t prepared for a major hurricane.
“If Hurricane Michael becomes a major hurricane, there is the real threat of ‘major hurricane amnesia,’” Shepherd wrote in Forbes this morning. “If you have not experienced something in nearly 13 years, do you remember what it is like or how to prepare? And with the rapid growth of the coastal communities around Destin and Panama City, there are certainly new residents that have not experienced a major hurricane at all.”
But October storms are not unusual.
Since 1851, Florida has had 36 hurricanes make October landfalls, including 10 major hurricanes, which is considered a Category 3 or higher. That’s five times higher than runner-up Louisiana, which has experienced seven October hurricane hits, including three majorhurricanes.
Florida’s October hurricane numbers are nearly as high as the peak month of September, when Florida has experienced 39 October hurricane landfalls, 19 of which were Cat 3 or higher, according to Colorado State University hurricane expert Phil Klotzbach.
Gov. Rick Scott has issued a state of emergency for 26 counties ahead of Michael.
Up to 11 feet of storm surge is possible from Indian Pass to Crystal River. Up to 7 feet is possible from the Okaloosa / Walton county line to Indian Pass.
Michael’s formation continues to keep the 2018 hurricane season above normal for named storms with 13, compared to the average for this time of year, which is 10. There have also been 6 hurricanes, when there are normally 5, and the accumulated cyclone energy is at 96.9 when it’s normally at 87.7, according to Colorado State University.
The reason for Florida’s vulnerability deep into October is largely a function of seasonal shifts in wind patterns and sea-surface temperatures.
In early summer, most storms form in the Caribbean Sea as the atmosphere starts its summer wind up and the mid-level African Easterly Jet is just beginning to spin up waves that will begin rolling off the continent in August and September.
Those tropical waves, which become the big Cape Verde hurricanes, travel the Atlantic east to west and have more options for routing, heading into the Gulf of Mexico, smacking the East Coast or wandering harmlessly off into the northern Atlantic.
But by October, mid-latitude wintertime air starts to seep into the tropical Atlantic, increasing the westerly wind shear to muzzle African tropical waves that also find cooler sea surface temperatures.
Instead, storms find room to grow in the deeply warm waters of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Once in the Gulf, early wintertime troughs of low pressure digging down through the U.S. can pick storms up and fling them at Florida.
For Palm Beach County, Michael will ensure that the rainy season goes out with a bang.
The dry season begins Oct. 15, but it will be wet and stormy through this week with rain chances as high as 60 percent through Friday.
Rain totals through Saturday could be as high as 2 inches, according to the Weather Prediction Center.