Wed. Nov 30th, 2022
Satellite view of hurricane over Atlantic Ocean.
enlarge / Hurricane Michael’s center passed near Cuba’s western tip Monday afternoon.

A tropical storm formed in the northern Caribbean Sea on Sunday. While few forecasting models predicted it would reach major hurricane status at the time, it seemed possible given that the storm was now moving away from the landmass of the Yucatan Peninsula and toward warmer waters in the southern Gulf of Mexico, where he will encounter a lower overall wind shear.

By late Monday morning, Michael had turned into a hurricane and forecasters at the National Hurricane Center now officially expect it to be a major Category 3 on Wednesday. That’s when Michael will make landfall along the northern Gulf Coast, probably over the Florida Panhandle. The biggest concerns for the Florida coast, especially an area between Destin and Apalachicola, are high winds and damaging storm surge. Significant effects will also occur in the interior, such as Tallahassee. Precipitation is a lesser threat due to the storm’s progressive movement north.

It’s rare, but certainly not unheard of for major hurricanes to hit the United States in October – after all, the season doesn’t end until November 30. By the middle of October, however, we are approaching the end of the season in terms of the greatest threat of hurricanes to make landfall.

Since 1851, when semi-accurate recording began, especially for landfall storms, a total of 15 major hurricanes have struck the United States. A major hurricane is defined as Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale, with sustained winds of 111 mph or greater. (The National Hurricane Center’s 11 a.m. ET forecast on Monday calls for 120 mph winds for Michael at landfall).

Another Wilma for Florida?

That Michael will be moving to Florida shouldn’t come as a big surprise. In October, the climatology of storms favors a northward turn –i.eInstead of moving west into Texas, storms in the Gulf of Mexico often bend north into Florida. That’s the result of top-level patterns starting to set off cold fronts across the Central Plains states and into Texas.

According to Colorado State University hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, of the 15 major hurricanes to hit the United States since October 1851, 10 of them hit Florida. The most recent was Hurricane Wilma during the incredibly active 2005 season.

12z European model forecast for the position of Hurricane Michael on Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET.
enlarge / 12z European model forecast for the position of Hurricane Michael on Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET.

Weather Bello

Forecasters also measure hurricane intensity by central pressure, with lower pressures indicating tighter circulation, better organization and more powerful storm. Wilma was a super-intense hurricane in the northwestern Caribbean Sea in October 2005. The central pressure of just 882 millibars set the record for the lowest central pressure of an Atlantic hurricane on record. Fortunately, Wilma weakened before making landfall on October 24 at Cape Romano, Florida, about 275 miles south of Tampa. Wilma had gusts of 120 mph, with a center pressure of 950 mb.

That’s close to what we can probably expect from Michael at landfall. The latest, 12z operational run of the European model shows Michael reaching a central pressure of 943.8 MB shortly after noon Wednesday, before making landfall along the Florida coast. Wilma remains the eighth costliest hurricane to hit the United States, with damage estimated at $27.4 billion. Needless to say, Michael should be taken seriously.

By akfire1

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