Michael may hit Florida Panhandle as major hurricane Wednesday night

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist 
October 08, 2018, 6:30:58 PM EDT

Michael is forecast by AccuWeather meteorologists to make landfall over the Florida Panhandle during the middle of this week.

Wind shear will remain the only deterrent to the strength of Michael prior to landfall.

Wind shear is the increase in wind speed at increasing altitude and/or across horizontal distance. Weak wind shear can vent a tropical storm or hurricane and allow it to get stronger. Strong wind shear can inhibit strengthening or cause a strong hurricane to weaken.

Despite wind shear, Michael has the potential to become a major hurricane (Category 3).

Where is Michael forecast to track and when will landfall occur?

"We expect Hurricane Michael to make landfall between Panama City, Florida, and Apalachicola, Florida, sometime later Wednesday or Wednesday night," according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.

Michael is forecast to reach Category 3 hurricane strength with winds of 111-120 mph. However, some fluctuation in strength is likely prior to and during landfall.

Download the free AccuWeather app for the latest track forecast and information on Michael's predicted impacts.

"Impacts from Hurricane Michael along the Florida Panhandle will include a dangerous storm surge, flooding rainfall and damaging winds," Kottlowski said.

Residents and visitors are encouraged to heed all evacuation orders as they are given.

There is a chance that Michael's forward speed may slow down a bit.

"A slower-moving Michael may make landfall closer to Apalachicola," Kottlowski said.

"If Michael does not slow down, it may make landfall close to Panama City."

"AccuWeather predicts that Hurricane Michael’s total damage and economic impact in the U.S. will be close to $15 billion. Michael is predicted to come ashore in the Florida Panhandle as a Category 3 storm, with winds in excess of 111 mph, Wednesday evening,” AccuWeather Founder and President Dr. Joel N. Myers said. "The greatest impacts will be near and east of where the hurricane’s eye makes landfall, and particularly along the coastline because of angry seas in a dangerous storm surge being driven inland by onshore winds." 

“In comparison, AccuWeather’s final damage and economic impact prediction of $60 billion for Florence was largely due to the storm’s inland flooding and damage. Due to Michael’s fast movement, inland flooding is not expected to be nearly as severe as it was with Florence. However, the greatest risk of flooding will occur in northern Florida and southern Georgia, where AccuWeather is predicting a Local StormMax™ of 12 inches. Michael will also bring the risk of flash flooding across the Carolinas, especially across eastern areas hit hard by Florence. As Michael is expected to track within 100 miles of the Carolina coastline, gales of 50-60 mph will result in additional damage. Our forecast for Michael’s ultimate economic impact factors in damage to expensive coastal resorts, costs of evacuations, lost wages, disruptions and damages to businesses, power outages, mold concerns and other health hazards in the six-month tail period following the storm as well as delays in Florence cleanup,” Myers said.

What will coastal impacts from Michael be like?

A significant amount of water will be funneled into Apalachee Bay. Interests in this area should be prepared for significant storm surge flooding that potentially may range between 8 and 12 feet.

Large waves will propagate outward as Michael moves northward. Seas and surf will build, especially over the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Some overwash is likely along the west coast of the Florida Peninsula, even though the storm center is forecast to make landfall over the Panhandle.

Moderate impacts from coastal flooding can occur south of Tampa with some impact possible as far south as the Florida Keys.

Most petroleum rigs are west of the forecast path of heaviest seas and winds. Only if Michael tracks farther west than currently forecast would impacts be more severe on rigs south of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Damaging hurricane-force winds, widespread power outages, flooding rainfall and storm surge flooding will occur near and east of the eye of the storm along part of the upper Gulf coast of Florida.