12:00 PM | **Hurricane Michael should reach “major” status before landfall on Wednesday in the Florida Panhandle region**
Michael has now officially reached hurricane status with max sustained winds now at 75 mph and there are reasons to believe it will undergo rapid intensification over the next 24-36 hours. As such, there is a high probability that Michael will reach major hurricane status (i.e., cat 3 or higher) before a likely landfall on Wednesday in the Florida Panhandle region. Once landfall is reached, Hurricane Michael will turn from a northerly direction to a northeasterly track and ride up along the Southeast US coastline and heavy rain is likely in the rain-soaked region of the Carolinas where Florence stalled out last month.
Latest satellite imagery shows a more organized storm system at mid-day with a center well embedded within an area of cold cloud tops. An eye is now becoming visible and minimum pressure has dropped to 29.00 inches. Rapid intensification is likely over the next 24-36 hours as wind shear in the general vicinity will diminish at the same time the center moves over the very warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and away from any interaction with the land masses of western Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula (Mexico). In addition, conditions aloft should become more conducive to intensification as high-level ridging will intensity over the Gulf of Mexico in the near term helping with the low-level convergence/upper-level divergence pattern of the storm. This expected rapid intensification not long before landfall time makes this an especially dangerous situation for the Florida Panhandle.
Once Michael reaches the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday, it will become influenced by an upper-level trough of low pressure moving into the central US. As a result, its direction should change to the northeast and this will allow it to push along the Southeast US coastline on Wednesday night and Thursday. A cold frontal system will be approaching the east coast later in the week and the interaction with Michael could generate some rainfall in the Mid-Atlantic region, but those prospects are still a bit unclear. Once thing that is pretty certain, however, is more heavy rainfall for the Carolinas where they are still trying to recover from Hurricane Florence’s deluge of last month.
Looking back in recent history of October hurricanes for Florida, Hurricane Opal was a large and powerful category 4 hurricane that caused severe and extensive damage along the northern Gulf Coast in October 1995. It crossed the Yucatan Peninsula while still a tropical depression on September 27, 1995, then strengthened and moved northward in the Gulf, becoming the most intense category 4 Atlantic hurricane before making a second landfall October 4 in the Florida Panhandle near Pensacola as a 115-mph category 3 hurricane (info from wikipedia). Landfalling hurricanes in the state of Florida during October are not all that unusual. In fact, about 60% of all October continental US hurricanes have made landfall in Florida in the period 1851-2017.
Meteorologist Paul Dorian
Extended morning video discussion on Hurricane Michael: