UPDATE: Hurricane Michael made landfall at about 1:30 p.m. with 155 mph winds between Mexico Beach and Panama City.
UPDATE 12:55 p.m.: The eyewall of Hurricane Michael is coming ashore between St. Vincent and Panama City with 150 mph winds.
Landfall is eminent.
The most recent pressure level was recorded at 917, which is lower than Hurricane Andrew’s 922.
Colorado State University researcher Phil Klotzbach said only two U.S. hurricanes have made landfall with a lower pressure – the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 and Camille in 1969.
Update 11:30 a.m.: Hurricane Michael continues to strengthen this morning with wind speeds up to 150 mph as it approaches Panama City.
Previous story: Hurricane Michael exploded overnight into a Category 4 hurricane with 145 mph winds and could strengthen before making landfall this afternoon.
Michael, which was 65 miles south-southwest of Panama City as of 10 a.m., is moving north at 13 mph.
Although there were some thoughts Michael would reach minimal Cat 4 strength, no one was forecasting this kind of rapid intensification. No Category 4 or 5 hurricanes have previously hit Florida’s Panhandle. A Category 5 storm begins with winds at 157 mph.
It was at 2 a.m. this morning that Michael first became a Category 4 with 130 mph winds.
As of 6 a.m., its initial rain bands began spreading across the Panhandle. Hurricane Force-winds extend out up to 45 miles from Michael’s center. Tropical storm-force winds extend out up to 185 miles.
“Satellite images of Michael’s evolution on Tuesday night were, in a word, jaw-droppingl,” said Bob Henson, a meteorologist for Weather Underground. “A massive blister of thunderstorms erupted and wrapped around the storm’s eye, which had taken taking a surprisingly long time to solidify.”
Michael’s quick formation and forward speed left limited time for preparation compared to the five days of suspense between Florence’s birth as a hurricane and its Category 1 landfall near Wrightsville Beach on Sept. 14.
“I’m 59 years old and lived here all my life and I don’t think I’ve ever been this concerned,” said Johnny Paul, who was boarding up his Wewa Outdoors shop on Tuesday in Wewahitchka, about 17 miles north of Mexico Beach. “When you wake up and see Jim Cantore is just an hour away, you get a little nervous.”
Paul and his neighbors went to bed Tuesday thinking Michael was going to be a high-end Category 3. They woke up to a strong Category 4 with the National Weather Service in Tallahassee declaring; “This is as SERIOUS as it gets.”
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Cantore, a Weather Channel broadcast meteorologist, was in Panama City Beach Tuesday morning. The Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office issued a playful no trespassing warning for the veteran storm chaser saying it would prefer he make “non business-related visits” during winter months.
Paul said he was most worried about wind damage, but it was the flush of saltwater storm surge that emergency operations officials and National Hurricane Center forecasters spent extra time highlighting.
Depending on Michael’s location at landfall, areas as far south Cedar Key could see up to 12 feet of storm surge if it peaks during Wednesday’s high tide, with the Gulf of Mexico pushing 10 miles deep into the Apalachicola River to Hancock Bay.
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“There’s a little wiggle room still on intensity at landfall but the track has been pretty straight forward in terms of forecasting,” said Chris Dolce, digital meteorologist for Weather.com, an IBM company. “It’s pretty sparsely populated in some of those areas, so that is a bit of good news.”
By tonight, Michael should be well inland and starting to make a sharp turn to the northwest as an area of low pressure picks it up, catapulting it through Georgia and the Carolinas as a tropical storm. Up to 10 inches of rain is possible in the Panhandle, but Michael’s expedited trip toward the Atlantic means a lower four to six inches in Georgia and the Carolinas.
Gov. Rick Scott, who declared a state of emergency in 35 counties and has assembled 2,500 National Guard troops to help with recovery, called Michael a “monstrous storm” that “keeps getting more dangerous.”
Leon County Emergency Operations Manager Kevin Peters said Michael is the “most extreme” storm to hit the area since 1894. State capital Tallahassee, which suffered widespread power outages after Category 1 Hurricane Hermine in 2016, is in Leon County.
“If you don’t follow warnings from officials, this storm could kill you,” Scott said.
This morning, Scott was interviewed by Cantore on The Weather Channel.
“I’m worried about the people who stayed behind, this thing came up fast,” Scott said. “It’s coming, it’s coming right now.