WeatherMatrix (Jesse Ferrell)

Hurricane Michael had storm chasers scared, and that's unusual

By Jesse Ferrell
10/18/2018, 2:15:49 PM

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This hurricane scared some storm chasers with its strength. Since the Facebook era, we've seen a lot of chasers pursuing hurricanes, but some regretted tracking Michael at landfall, which is not something storm chasers normally say.

Why? It was a much different experience with Hurricane Florence because it was a weakening Category 1, not a near-Category 5. Barrier islands on the North Carolina coast also helped slow down the worst storm surge and winds from Florence; where Michael made landfall, the land took the full brunt of the eyewall (the islands also allow law enforcement to more easily restrict sightseers from going there).

Hurricane Michael AP Photo Zoom

PHOTO CAPTION: (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) A storm chaser climbs into his vehicle during the eye of Hurricane Michael to retrieve equipment after a hotel canopy collapsed in Panama City Beach, Florida, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018.

Even without the Category 5 designation, Michael was one of the strongest top 3 or 4 hurricanes to ever hit the U.S. (see my blog entry "Hurricane Michael's Greatest Hits.")

Quotes from storm chasers, and in many cases videos that documented their experiences, are shown below.

JOSH MORGERMAN (ICYCLONE):

Josh Morgerman, better known as "iCyclone" has chased some of the strongest hurricanes and typhoons on Earth. Of Hurricane Michael, he said:

"The whole city looks like a nuke was dropped on it. I'm literally shocked at the scale of the destruction."

That means a lot, coming from him.


BRETT ADAIR (LIVE STORMS MEDIA):

Brett, who live-streamed perhaps the craziest video from the storm, where his truck became surrounded from storm surge and they had to abandon said simply:

"Well - that was a day I will never forget... Thanks for the messages - we are okay but Michael lived up to the hype."

In a later post, he added:

"Caught up with Eric that owns The Fish House who allowed us to spend the night with him and use his communications. He thought he would never see me again... Had a few people walk up while we were talking about the truck and incident... hug me and cry thinking we were going to die. It was humbling and devastating to say the least."


Other chasers who posted his video on Facebook spoke for him. Storm chaser Dan Whittaker posted:

"This was his live stream, which ends with him abandoning the car as it is overtook by storm surge, all on video. I watched it live. Brett has been my broker for over 4 years, and I am glad he make it to safety. Watch with audio... the most intense parts start around 29 minutes. The decisions they had to make... very few people have ever had to do."


EVAN HATCH:

Chaser Evan Hatch called Hurricane Michael "the absolute most horrifying experience of my life."

"To all of my friends and family out there wondering I am alive and well tonight and survived the absolute most horrifying experience of my life. A series of unfortunate events and miscalculations lead me and my crew to make a terrible decision today which very well could have cost all of us our lives... Love my friends and family who expressed concern, and those who spread the word that we were missing or potentially in trouble. Y'all mean the world to me. Counting my Blessings this evening, and so happy we are all alive and well. Love you guys."


JASON COOLEY (TEXAS STORM CHASERS):

Storm chaser Jason Cooley went even further, saying he would not chase a hurricane this powerful again:

"Today I experienced borderline Cat 4/5 Hurricane Michael and it definitely was enough to never want to do it again. A different and worse outcome could’ve played out and I’m so thankful it didn’t and I can come back home and kiss my wife and pretty soon my kid."


DOUG KIESLING (STORMCHASINGVIDEO.COM):

Doug is a man of few words, saying only "If I stayed there I would have died."

Check out his incredible footage, including a timelapse from the eye of the storm:



REED TIMMER:

AccuWeather's own Reed Timmer explains the meteorology of why the storm was so strong, and why he made decisions that saved his life:

"I would agree with the description of this hurricane coming in like a typhoon and packing a unique power and roar in the eye wall that I’ve never experienced before. Usually when a hurricane makes landfall along the U.S. mainland as you know, it pulls in a bit of dry air and encounters increased wind shear as they pull north, and are mostly weakening at landfall. A strengthening compact storm is a different monster, and is much more efficient at mixing down to the surface the strongest wind speeds – often via tornado like vortices in the eye wall. It seems that the strongest, most rapidly intensifying storms develop the obvious tornado-like vortices with a 4-5 wave number within the eye because the pressure is dropping so fast, the wind field does not have time to adjust.


This forces the curved flow within the eye wall out of cyclostrophic balance, and forces cross-isobaric flow that tries to head toward the lowest pressure at the center, causing these intense tornado-like mesovortices to form in the eye wall. We also saw this with Hurricane Harvey last year which was intensifying on approach, but Hurricane Michael was a much more compact storm with ample time to reach peak intensity. The approaching trough caused southwesterly surface winds to develop, so the abrupt turn to the northeast at landfall reduced wind shear a bit to create the perfect conditions for this unprecedented storm very near the shoreline of the Continental U.S. We knew that this storm would not be survivable along the beach in the right eye wall, and also did extensive research on the topography and concrete structures that could survive such a storm.


As much as I wanted to punch through the flying projectile debris within the northwestern eye wall to reach the stadium-effect eye, I knew I would be risking the life of Gizmo (his dog) and Blake in my Subaru to make this happen. If we had the Dominator 3 (armored vehicle) in position to intercept Hurricane Michael, I believe we easily could have driven through the projectile debris in Panama City and intercepted the stadium effect eye. I always wanted to ride out a major hurricane by vehicle to experience the raw power, and I can tell you that the pure intensity of the wind in the strikingly intense northwestern eye wall in Panama City is not something you can prepare for. I am very thankful that all storm chasers survived the intercept of this unprecedented hurricane."

AARON JAYJACK:

Another chaser for AccuWeather during Hurricane Michael told this story:

"I knew Michael was a fast-moving storm, and tried to keep that in mind when making critical chasing decisions in the hour and minutes up to landfall. And even though I expected conditions to deteriorate fast, I was still caught off guard with Michael’s speed and how quickly the whole thing unfolded.

My last-minute plan when it was evident the eye was going to miss Panama City Beach was to try to make a run into the eye from the lower left quadrant of the eye wall, as Michael started to pull away from my location and the winds would subside some. However, the winds were too fierce to safely cross the causeway into Panama City through the entire eyewall intercept, and had I crossed, my vehicle likely would’ve been shredded. So I was forced to ride the storm out on the lower half of the Panama City Beach side of the causeway. After assessing the damage the following day, I 100% made the correct call, as I would not have been able to keep up with Michael’s speed through the Panama City war zone maze to get into the eye. Michael struck the gulf coast like a hammer; hard and concise."

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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WeatherMatrix (Jesse Ferrell)