By the numbers: Michael ranked as 3rd-most intense hurricane to hit continental US

By Brian Lada, AccuWeather meteorologist and staff writer
October 12, 2018, 5:33:03 AM EDT


On Wednesday afternoon, Hurricane Michael became one of the most intense hurricanes to ever strike the United States as it unleashed catastrophic winds and storm surge across the Florida Panhandle.

“This is a worst case scenario for the Florida Panhandle,” National Weather Service (NWS) Director Dr. Louis Uccellini said.

ISS Capture of Hurricane Michael's eye

Hurricane Michael captured from the space station Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, after the storm made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane over the Florida Panhandle. (Photo/International Space Station)


Hurricane Michael was just shy of Category 5 status when it made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph and even higher wind gusts.

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"The minimum central pressure is probably the most accurate way to measure the intensity of a hurricane," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

Many anemometers are destroyed by debris or blown away at wind speeds above 100 mph. Hence, there are a lack of measurements of high-speed winds on land.

"The lower the pressure, the more intense the storm. The storm is literally drawing air from the surface and propelling it upward like a giant vacuum cleaner. Air then must rush from the sides near the ground to compensate. This is what produces the high winds that cause the damage and contribute to storm surge flooding," Sosnowski said.

When Michael made landfall, it had a minimum central pressure of 27.13 inches of mercury. This makes it the 3rd-most intense US land-falling hurricane with a pressure lower than Katrina and Andrew.

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"Based on central pressure and looking at some of the damage photos and videos coming in, I would not be shocked if Michael is upgraded to a Category 5 hurricane after official review," Sosnowski said.

The NWS issued an extreme wind warning for 250,000 people as the historic hurricane made landfall. “Treat these imminent extreme winds as if a tornado was approaching,” the NWS said.

Significant, widespread damage has been reported in areas near where Michael made landfall, but the full scope of the damage will be unknown until conditions improve.

Michael by the numbers infographic

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Satellite imagery captured Hurricane Michael's approach to the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo/National Hurricane Center)

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