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'It will look like a bomb or tsunami hit the area’ where Category 4 Hurricane Michael makes landfall in Florida

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
October 11, 2018, 4:30:44 AM EDT

Michael has made landfall over the Florida Panhandle during early Wednesday afternoon, as the strongest hurricane on record to hit the region.

It appears that Michael made landfall at approximately 1:30 p.m. EDT and 12:30 p.m. CDT near Mexico Beach, Florida, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, which was just shy of Category 5 status.

“Catastrophic Hurricane Michael continues to intensify as it approaches the Florida Panhandle. It is the strongest storm to hit the U.S., in terms of wind, since Hurricane Charley in 2004. It’s crucial to note that a 150-mph storm has four times the force of a 110-mph storm. Damage will be catastrophic within a 50-mile stretch of the coastline where the eye makes landfall, centered around Apalachicola Bay. It will look like a bomb or tsunami hit the area. We now believe that the coastline will cause the water to converge as high as 18-20 feet in isolated areas. This is moving water, which is extremely powerful. We’ve all seen pictures of what a tsunami can do. If people are still there and can still hear us, they need to do everything they can to survive,” AccuWeather Founder and President Dr. Joel N. Myers said.

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The impact and damage from a Category 4 hurricane is exponentially higher than from a Category 3 hurricane in terms of wind and storm surge flooding from the sea.

"Michael is a historic storm. A Category 4 hurricane has never struck that part of Florida. The coastline will be changed for decades," AccuWeather Vice President of Forecasting and Graphics Operations Marshall Moss said. "Michael will be like an EF3 tornado coming across a 30-mile area."

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"Impacts from Hurricane Michael along the Florida Panhandle will include a dangerous Gulf of Mexico storm surge, flooding rainfall and damaging winds," according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.

Where will Michael make landfall?

Near and just east of landfall, between Panama City and Apalachicola, Florida, there is the potential for major devastation and extreme risks to lives.

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

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"AccuWeather predicts that Hurricane Michael’s total damage and economic impact in the U.S. will be close to $30 billion," 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 ocean 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," Myers said.

"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 added.

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What will coastal impacts from Michael be like?

A significant amount of water will be funneled into Apalachee Bay and the stretch of coast between Mexico Beach and Keaton Beach, Florida. Interests in this area should be prepared for Gulf of Mexico storm surge flooding averaging between 10 and 15 feet.

However, locally higher storm surge, between 18 and 20 feet, can occur due to local bay and coastline funneling effects.

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Large waves will propagate outward as Michael moves northward. Seas and surf will build, especially over the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Most petroleum rigs are west of the forecast path of heaviest seas and winds.

Seas of 15-30 feet with locally larger waves are forecast near and just northeast of the storm track. Swells of 10-20 feet may extend outward over much of the Gulf.

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.

As with any hurricane that makes landfall, there will be the risk of tornadoes being spawned.

Dangerous and damaging conditions will persist with Michael as it accelerates on a northeastward path through the Southeast states through Thursday night.

Power outages, downed trees, property damage and flooding rainfall are likely hundreds of miles after the point of landfall.

“AccuWeather has provided forecasts and impactful warnings of severe weather with documented Superior Accuracy™ for 56 years. We have developed a unique expertise for damage and economic impact predictions by analyzing the total effects of the storm from before it hits to the immediate and post impact effects, including the six-month tail period afterward. That’s why AccuWeather has been by far the most accurate source of damage and economic losses of any source, regularly beating out financial and insurance companies and other weather sources. AccuWeather accurately predicted damage in advance of storms during the 2017 hurricane season and ahead of Florence,” Myers said.

Elsewhere in the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Nadine formed in the eastern Atlantic on Tuesday, but will likely diminish by this weekend.

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