Talking the Tropics With Mike: Hurricane Michael makes historic landfall in the Florida Panhandle

Oct. 10, 2018 — The "Buresh Bottom Line": Always be prepared!.....First Alert Hurricane Survival Guide... City of Jacksonville Preparedness Guide... Georgia Hurricane Guide.  

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Hurricane Michael has gone through a rapid intensification cycle - as feared - & appears destined to be a "once in a generation" type landfalling hurricane for the Panhandle.  This will surpass hurricane Ivan in 2004 as the most severe Panhandle hurricane as well as hurricane Opal in Oct., 1995 & - arguably - since historic Camille in Aug., 1969 which was a much more compact hurricane.

Michael hit the Fl. Panhandle as a "major" near Cat. 5 hurricane a little before 2pm EDT 20 miles southeast of Panama City near Mexico Beach.  No time for any structural changes of any consequence at this point so a near Cat. 5 hurricane will plow through the Panhandle through early Wed. evening.

Given the straight forward path -  centered on the Central Panhandle - local impacts for Jacksonville, NE Fl. & SE Ga. remain as follows (primarily fringe for Jax/NE Fl. but more impactful for SE Ga.):

* heavy rain in multiple bands through Thu. with the potential for 0.5 -1.5" of rain (not all due to Michael), more in some spots of Georgia.  More rain just offshore to the east & over NW Fl. & Panhandle into Ga. closer to what should be the center of Michael.  Looks like a relative lull in the rain Wed. due to a dry slot pivoting north around the eastern side of Michael's circulation.  However, this dry mid & upper level air could also lead to a few bands of strong to severe t'storms into Wed. night. that would produce strong winds & isolated tornadoes. Remember a WATCH means conditions are favorable for severe weather; a WARNING means you need to take action if you're in the warning area.

* breezy winds - combination of  "Michael" to the west & moderately strong high pressure to the north will result in brisk winds out of the SE increasing through Thu. averaging 15-25 mph with gusts 30+ mph becoming southerly Wed. night/Thu. morning.... out of the SW Thu. afternoon & evening.... out of the west by Friday while diminishing. Strongest winds will be at the beaches - gusts up to 40 mph.... & from near Lake City to Waycross to Brunswick, Ga. closer to Michael's center where gusts of 50-60 mph or more will be possible Wed. night into Thu. The offshore winds - out of the west - late Thu. into Fri. - will be a surfer's delight but be careful - rip currents!

* isolated waterspouts &/or tornadoes through Wed. night & into Thu. morning.

* high rip current risk at area beaches

* minor flooding - especially at times of high tide - along the coast, intracoastal & St. Johns River & its tributaries due to a combination of strong/persistent onshore flow the last several days, occasional heavy rain & an astronomical boost due to the new moon phase. No significant storm surge is expected for NE Fl. & Jacksonville & SE Ga. with this track scenario whether at the beaches, intracoastal or along the St. Johns River & its tributataries.

* I would expect highways, airports, every day businesses & overall infrastructure to not be harshly impacted by Michael in Jacksonville/NE Fl. & most of SE Ga.  Power outages should only be sporadic & not terribly long lasting.  Of course, a much different story for parts of the Carolina's, Georgia & the Fl. Panhandle & Big Bend where travel will be severely hampered & power may be out for days if not weeks.

*** Hurricane WARNING/Storm Surge WARNING Fl. Panhandle & Big Bend ... keep in mind that storm surge often kills more people during a hurricane than any other hazard.  Cat. 3 Katrina in 2005 pushed storm surge to & even beyond I-10 in places in Mississippi & Alabama ***

While virtually all weather is complicated & difficult to forecast, a tropical cyclone's decay over land is even more problematic.  But at this point, the fast moving powerful & large hurricane will likely maintain hurricane status past I-75 in Ga.... & tropical storm status all the way to the coast of Carolina's before exiting back over the water of the W. Atlantic.  Pretty remarkable & the result will be life threatening dangers & damage far inland.

REMEMBER: the "cone of uncertainty" is simply & only forecast error & has nothing to do with potential amount of damage or damage swath.  Do not get too caught up in exactly where the center might be going.  Keep in mind that a more narrow cone simply means a higher confidence track forecast.

History - going back to about the mid 1990s - shows we should be wary of Oct. hurricanes given certain conditions which are in place right now - see "Buresh Blog" - Matthew (Fl.) 2 years ago (Sun., 10/07!)... Joaquin (Bahamas & El Faro) in 2015... Sandy (NY, NJ) in 2012.... Wilma (Yucatan &Fl.) in 2005... Mitch (Central America & Fl.) in 1998... Opal (Fl.) in 1995.

Michael rapidly organized & strengthened over Gulf of Mexico as shear as relaxed, upper level ventilation & therefore outflow has improved over very warm water.  The eye became centered underneath the stronger, more persistent convection that was being sheared to the east.

So it looks like the stubborn upper level high pressure that's been a mainstay the last 6 weeks or so near Jacksonville will indeed essentially protect Jacksonville/NE Fl. & most of SE Ga. from a major hurricane .... BUT stay up to date!!..... AND there will still be potentially significant fringe effects for the local area.

Michael will be a swift moving tropical cyclone which means dangerous impacts will extend far inland.  Everyone from Florida to Pascagoula should "hurricane prepare"..... flooding, high winds & tornadoes will occur far inland over parts of Alabama & especially Ga., NW Fl. & the Carolina's (potentially bad news for Florence - wary Carolina residents).

Radar imagery below courtesy South Fl. Water Management District (magenta line indicates NHC Michael forecast track):

Microwave energy courtesy CIMSS:

Gulf of Mexico:

Yellow is potential tropical storm force winds:



Spaghetti plots for Michael show big time clustering giving increased forecast confidence (it's one of the reasons the cone is so narrow!):

Ensemble spaghetti model plots give us a good idea of the uncertainty & the array of possible outcomes in the coming days:

"Bath water" over parts of the Gulf:

So for movement - to recap..... the long lasting Bermuda high summer-style system over or near the Southeast U.S. - that has brought an extended summertime weather pattern of heat & dry weather to Jacksonville - has been & - will be - a major player regarding the ultimate track of Michael.  At the same time, a deep upper level trough will dig into the Western U.S.  Forecast models have come around to the solution of bringing Michael to the Panhandle then turning NE & accelerating as the upper level trough becomes more dominant & the ridge breaks down some as Michael becomes absorbed by the westerlies & upper level trough so as to not hang around any one location for too long while moving northeast.  That's a two-edged sword: the tornado & wind threat will extend well inland but rainfall - while heavy - will not be as extreme as would be the case with a slow moving tropical cyclone.

Rainfall will be heavy but not necessarily excessive as Michael speeds northeast:

Map below is upper levels (500mb) - European model, 9am Thu. showing the stubborn & important high pressure just off the east coast vs. the deep trough over the Western/Central U.S:

The overall pattern through the first 2+ weeks of Oct. has favored tropical development over the Atlantic Basin.  The velocity potential anomaly map below indicates expansive green lines - upward motion - spreading from the E. Pacific into the Atlantic Basin, part of a MJO (Madden-Julian Oscillation) pulse.

Note the secondary peak of the hurricane season in mid Oct.:

Meanwhile... Long-lived Leslie continues to crawl over the Central Atlantic & has again become a hurricane(!).  Leslie will stay far away from any land areas as the tropical cyclone turns sharply eastward moving into the Eastern Atlantic where the storm could have some impact on the Azores late in the week/weekend as Leslie finally becomes post-tropical.

AND(!).... tropical depression #15 has become tropical storm "Nadine" over the far E. Atlantic courtesy a strong tropical wave that's moved off the coast of Africa.  Dr. Phil Klotzbach says this is the farthest east that a tropical storm has formed so late in the season. This system has virtually no chance to make it across the Atlantic & will soon encounter strong shear causing pretty fast weakening while peeling off to the west over the Central Atlantic steered then by the more shallow trade winds.

Atlantic Basin "tri-fecta": Michael, Leslie & Nadine.  In addition... a tropical wave is forecast to develop into an area of low pressure over the W. Caribbean late in the week/weekend with some tropical development possible as the low moves west eventually into Central America.  Looks like this system would stay far south of the U.S.

E. Atlantic:

Mid & upper level wind shear (enemy of tropical cyclones) analysis (CIMMS). The red lines indicate strong shear:

The Atlantic Basin.....

Water vapor imagery (dark blue indicates dry air):

Deep oceanic heat content is seasonably high over the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico & SW Atlantic as one would expect early in the fall....

Sea surface temp. anomalies:


SE U.S. surface map:


Surface analysis centered on the tropical Atlantic:

Surface analysis of the Gulf:


The E. Pacific remains active....

After becoming annular, hurricane Sergio - still with a broad eye - is gradually giving in to increasing shear & cooler sea surface temps.  Having put on the brakes, Sergio has turned sharply northeast & will accelerate.  Eventually the tropical cyclone - or its remnants - may affect parts of Mexico, the Baja & Southwest U.S. late in the week/weekend when a deep upper level trough sets up shop over the Western U.S. & shoots Sergio to the northeast.