Michael has strengthened into a hurricane and is forecast to strike the northeast Florida coastline as a Category 3 with dangerous storm surge flooding, destructive winds and flooding rainfall.
Michael is currently centered about 50 miles south of the western tip of Cuba and is moving north.
Outer rainbands from Michael are already soaking the Florida Keys, and rainfall totals of 2 to 4 inches are likely there through Tuesday.
Michael rapidly intensified from Sunday 11 a.m. EDT to Monday 11 a.m. EDT when its winds increased from 35 mph to 75 mph in that 24-hour period.
A hurricane watch is now posted for the northeast Gulf Coast from the Alabama/Florida border to Suwanee River, Florida. This includes Pensacola, Panama City and Tallahassee. Also in a hurricane watch is southwest Georgia. Hurricane watches are issued 48 hours before the arrival of tropical-storm-force winds, which is when outside preparations become dangerous.
Tropical storm watches are in effect from Suwanee River, Florida, to Anna Maria Island, Florida, including Tampa Bay. Also in a tropical storm watch is a swath from the Alabama/Florida border to the Mississippi/Alabama border as well as inland areas of southern Alabama and southwest Georgia.
A storm surge watch has been hoisted from Navarre, Florida, to Anna Maria Island, Florida, including Tampa Bay. This means life-threatening storm surge inundation is possible in the watch area within 48 hours.
Interests along the northeastern Gulf Coast in the path of Michael should be making preparations. Follow the advice of local officials if you are ordered to evacuate, particularly if you live in a storm surge prone location.
Forecast: U.S. Gulf Coast Threat Midweek
Forecast guidance is unanimous that Michael will be drawn northward through the Gulf of Mexico and approach Florida’s northeastern Gulf Coast by Tuesday night or Wednesday.
Additional intensification is expected during the next day or so and Michael is forecast by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) to be at major hurricane strength (Category 3+) before it makes landfall. This will be due to a combination of increasingly favorable upper-level winds and above average sea-surface temperatures along Michael’s path.
Here’s an overview of what we know right now.
– Landfall is most likely to occur somewhere between the Florida Panhandle and the Big Bend of Florida Wednesday into Wednesday night. Depending on how quickly or slowly Michael begins to turn northeast, landfall could be delayed until early Thursday.
– Conditions may begin to deteriorate as early as Tuesday night on the northeast Gulf Coast.
– After landfall, Michael will then move farther inland across the southeastern U.S. into late-week with gusty winds and heavy rain.
– Michael could enhance rainfall in the mid-Atlantic and southeast New England later this week.
– The NHC is forecasting Michael to be a Category 3 when it approaches the Florida coast.
– There remains some uncertainty in the intensity forecast and Michael could be slightly weaker or stronger near landfall.
– Michael will still be a dangerous hurricane even if it does not intensify as much as currently forecast.
– Hurricane-force winds (74-plus mph) could arrive in the hurricane watch area on the northeast Gulf Coast by Wednesday.
– Tropical-storm-force winds (39-plus mph) are most likely to arrive in the tropical storm watch area on the northeastern Gulf Coast by Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
– Widespread power outages, tree damage and structural damage will occur along the path of Michael near and just inland from where it makes landfall on the northeastern Florida Gulf Coast.
– Strong winds may extend farther inland across parts of the Southeast as Michael moves northeast, including parts of southern Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas. Although there is uncertainty with the strength of winds across inland locations, there could be scattered tree damage and scattered power outages in those areas.
– Life-threatening storm surge flooding will occur along the immediate coastline near and east of where the center makes landfall.
– Michael is expected to affect portions of the Florida Gulf coast that are especially vulnerable to storm surge, particularly Apalachee Bay south of Tallahassee.
The NHC says water levels on the coast could reach the following heights if the peak storm surge arrives at high tide:
Indian Pass to Crystal River: 8 to 12 feet
Crystal River to Anclote River: 4 to 6 feet
Okaloosa/Walton County Line to Indian Pass: 5 to 8 feet
Anclote River to Anna Maria Island including Tampa Bay: 2 to 4 ft
Navarre to Okaloosa/Walton County Line: 2 to 4 feet
Here are the high tides for Wednesday and Thursday for a few locations in the storm surge threat area (all times are local):
Panama City: 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday | 11 p.m. on Thursday
Apalachicola: 4:39 a.m. and 6:10 p.m. on Wednesday | 4:58 a.m. and 7:04 p.m. on Thursday
Cedar Key: 2:48 a.m. and 3:36 p.m. on Wednesday | 3:18 a.m. and 4:19 p.m. on Thursday
Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg: 2:46 a.m. and 4:06 p.m. on Wednesday | 3:09 a.m. and 4:55 p.m. on Thursday
On the Southeast coast, onshore winds and high astronomical tides will also lead to some coastal flooding this week. Charleston Harbor is forecast to see minor to moderate coastal flooding at high tide.
– Heavy rain is likely to spread inland from the northeastern Gulf Coast midweek to other parts of the southeastern U.S. into late-week.
– Rainfall totals of 4 to 8 inches are forecast from the Florida Panhandle into the Carolinas, according to the NHC. Locally up to a foot of rain is possible. This may cause dangerous flash flooding in some areas.
– Some heavy rain will affect parts of the Carolinas that were devastated by flooding from Hurricane Florence. That said, this system is unlikely to stall like Florence did and will, therefore, not bring extreme rainfall amounts. Some flooding could still occur there, but details are uncertain this far out in time.
– Michael may enhance rainfall along a front moving through the East Coast later this week. As a result, parts of the mid-Atlantic and coastal southern New England could see 2 to 4 inches of rain (locally up to 6 inches).
– As is typical with landfalling hurricanes, isolated tornadoes will be a threat on the eastern side of the storm.
– A tornado threat may develop in the Florida Panhandle and southern Georgia by Wednesday.
Check back with weather.com throughout the week ahead for more details on the forecast for Michael.
Cuba and Mexico Impact
A hurricane warning is now effect for the Pinar del Rio Province in western Cuba. Hurricane conditions are possible there later Monday.
Tropical storm warnings have been posted for Isle of Youth, Cuba, and Mexico’s northeastern Yucatan Peninsula, including Cozumel.
Rainfall totals of 4 to 8 inches (locally 12 inches) are forecast over western Cuba, with 1 to 2 inches over the northeast Yucatan Peninsula.
These downpours could contribute to life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides, particularly in areas of mountainous terrain.