Hurricane Michael

Making landfall yesterday with maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour (just 1 mph short of Category 5 status), Hurricane Michael broke the record for strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in the Florida Panhandle since records began in 1851. Striking near Mexico Beach, Florida, it’s minimum central pressure of 919 millibars also makes it the third most intense storm to make landfall in the U.S. ahead of Andrew (1992) and Katrina (2005) and surpassed only by Camille (1969) and the Labor Day Hurricane (1935). This is a remarkable event for a number of reasons, but every storm is unique.

Compared to Hurricane Florence this past September, which dumped more than 35 inches of rain and blew damaging winds and storm surge in North and South Carolina for several days, Michael, is moving much faster (14 mph vs 3 mph) and following a more typical track north and north east.

Instead of a slow-moving ‘rain-maker’, the most concerning aspects of Michael were and continue to be the extreme wind and storm surge. Compared to Hurricane Irma of 2017, which caused $50 billion in damages to Florida, Michael’s forecasted track has been easier to predict, though it’s dangerous energy is more focused on a region of the state as opposed to the entire state.

Michael is also unique in that it intensified into a major hurricane just a few days after developing and almost immediately posed a threat to land. Fueled by abnormally warm ocean waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the approaching storm gave communities less time to prepare and evacuate. On the other hand, the relatively high certainty with its track made for easier preparations from an emergency management perspective.

As hurricane Michael races north-northeast ahead of a cold front, he has produced the following hazardous impacts:

  • Catastrophic storm surges of 9-14 feet across several counties from Tyndall Air Force Base to Aucilla River, damaging water levels of <9 ft elsewhere. View real-time storm surge forecast.
  • Tropical storm force winds (39-73mph) more than 300 miles across which may knock power out for over a million customers through Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina
  • Hurricane force winds (74 mph +) that will cause significant structural and environmental damage to homes, businesses and public facilities across multiple states
  • A stripe of rainfall amounts of 4-8 inches across northwest Florida, southeast Alabama, Georgia and portions of the Carolinas and Virginia, with up to a foot possible in some areas causing flash flooding
  • EF-0 or EF-1 tornadoes embedded within the outer bands of the storm may spin up quickly with little warning across the Southeast

Follow live coverage through the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network partner Florida Storms Facebook Page or view a summary of initial impacts documented by the Weather Channel.

Hurricane Michael as it hits the coast

Florida’s disaster recovery and adaptation planning work

While impacts expected in this region of Florida are in many ways unprecedented, the state is one of the most proactive and forward thinking not only in terms of its disaster preparedness and response, but also its recovery and adaptation planning. The impetus for their work, not surprisingly, was a response to the devastating 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons which produced 12 named storms making landfall in the state.

A few years later, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) and Florida Division of Emergency Management began the Post-Disaster Redevelopment Planning Initiative. In 2007 and 2008, the first community case study they worked with was Panama City who is currently feeling the effects of the western side of Hurricane Michael. Lessons learned from their experience and through other case studies eventually led to the development and release of the often-cited Post-Disaster Redevelopment Planning guide for Florida communities which outlines a process and set of best practices. Recognizing the increased interest and importance of climate change, an addendum on Addressing Adaptation During Long-term Recovery was developed earlier this year and focuses on how to incorporate sea-level-rise and other concerns into the recovery process.

While this has led to a number of coastal counties developing Post-disaster redevelopment plans before the disaster, it’s unclear to what extent those have influenced activities and resilience building after past storms. Described by many former and current UNC City and Regional Planning professors, disaster present a ‘window of opportunity’ to increase the resilience of a community (Berke & Campanella, 2006, Smith, 2012).

Also new in 2018, the Adaptation Planning Guidebook compiles stakeholder involvement and research “to assist Florida communities in preparing for and dealing with the effects of sea level rise, especially coastal flooding, erosion, and ecosystem changes”. It is the compilation of nearly 30 documents focusing on adaptation and planning as part of the Community Resilience Initiative over a five-year period.

Moving forward…

The state of Florida certainly has the experience and vision for building resilience after major storms like Irma and Michael, but the inevitable complications and stress that come with dozens of agencies and organizations trying to address short-term critical needs make decisions for local communities about the long-term all the more difficult.

Expected Impacts in Central NC

Below is a summary of the impacts expected in the Triangle area from the National Weather Service in Raleigh, NC:

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National Weather Service Summary of Impacts

About the Author: Christian Kamrath is a Coastal Resilience Specialist with the N.C. Division of Coastal Management in Morehead City where he works with local governments, state and federal agencies as well as community organizations to promote and facilitate coastal adaptation and resilience planning in the state’s 20 coastal counties. He has previously worked on projects involving climate adaptation, disaster recovery and emergency preparedness planning with North Carolina Sea Grant, the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He is a self-proclaimed weather-nerd and former forecaster at the University of Florida (WRUF-TV6) and recent graduate (’18) of the Masters of City and Regional Planning program at UNC-Chapel Hill where he received the Natural Hazards Resilience Certificate.