Hurricane Michael has formed on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico and is likely to make a beeline toward the Florida Panhandle. As it moves inland, it could bring heavy rains to the still-recovering Carolinas toward end the week.
The storm has already lived a fast and furious life, attaining tropical storm status on Sunday morning and ramping up into a Category 1 hurricane on Monday by the National Hurricane Center’s (NHC) 11 a.m. ET update. And Michael isn’t done intensifying yet.
“Steady to rapid strengthening is forecast during the next day or so, and Michael is forecast to become a major hurricane by Tuesday or Tuesday night,” the agency wrote in its forecast.
One of the biggest sources of fuel for the hurricane is extremely warm waters in the Yucatan channel between Mexico and Cuba. The storm is expected to pass through that area on Monday and Tuesday, achieving major hurricane status—the label for Category 3 or greater storms—by the time it reaches the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday.
Michael will lash Cuba’s western tip as it lumbers northeast, bringing up to 8 inches of rain. That’s a concern, but Florida’s Gulf Coast is where things could get really hairy owing to a few factors that will drive extra high storm surge.
Shallow waters along the continental shelf will help Michael churn up even more water to push ashore. The storm also coincides with the full moon and king tides that regularly turn Florida streets in rivers. Because of the way storms rotate, the strongest surges tends to be on their northeast quadrant. Oh, and there’s sea level rise.
Based on all that and the projected track, early estimates from the NHC call for 8-12 feet of storm surge across a 240-mile stretch of Florida coastline from Crystal River to Indian Pass. Surge could climb as high as 19 feet, according to Jeff Masters and Bob Henson at Wunderground.
Overall, the NHC estimates that a 400-mile swath from near the Florida-Alabama border all the way to Tampa could face some form of storm surge. The storm could even affect parts of Florida’s seemingly never-ending red tide. The forecast will likely be refined and numbers will almost certainly change, but the point is clear: If you live on this huge swath of the Gulf Coast, pay attention.
Michael is forecast to push inland and weaken to a tropical storm, but as well saw with Florence, rain is still going to be a huge issue. The Carolinas are looking at 4-8 inches of rain over a large area with isolated patches of 12 inches possible. The Mid-Atlantic will also get a taste of Michael’s rains before it heads out to sea.
Only 12 major hurricanes have hit the Gulf Coast of Florida since record keeping began in 1851, according to University of Miami hurricane expert Brian McNoldy. The last was Hurricane Dennis in 2005. There’s a good chance Michael could be unlucky number 13.