Even those jaded by hurricanes have never seen anything like this.
For the first time, a Category 4 hurricane is on track to slam the Florida Panhandle. And it’s bringing an onslaught of deadly hazards.
“Unfortunately, this is a hurricane of the worst kind,” said Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Here’s what makes Hurricane Michael especially dangerous:
The strongest hurricane ever to hit the Panhandle
Michael rapidly intensified to a Category 4 hurricane overnight. By Wednesday morning, it was hurling 145-mph winds.
Even scarier, Michael could get stronger before making landfall Wednesday afternoon.
The storm will likely bring “winds that are above typical building codes,” Long said.
Hurricane Andrew in 1992 inspired tougher building codes in Florida. But many older houses aren’t built to withstand a beast like Michael.
“You’re going to see roofs off houses. You’re going to see houses collapsing,” said Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center.
Pine trees could become flying weapons
Florida’s Panhandle is covered with thousands of pine trees. And with winds topping 140, those trees could turn into violent projectiles.
“You get those kinds of winds, it’s catastrophic damage to the trees’ structure,” Graham said.
And with downed trees come power outages.
“This could bring down thousands and thousands of those pine trees here — not only making all the damage along the coast, but inland as well,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.
Graham said because this storm is “absolutely overwhelming,” power outages could last weeks.
Storm surges could be deadly
Michael will spawn massive storm surges — or walls of ocean water — as high as 14 feet, forecasters said.
“Half of the fatalities in these tropical systems occur with the storm surge,” Graham said.
The FEMA chief said anyone asked to evacuate needs to do so immediately.
“This is nothing to play around with,” Long said. “Those who stick around and experience storm surge are less likely to live to tell about it.”
Cities far inland will feel an actual hurricane
Many hurricanes sputter out after they hit land and lose the title of hurricane. But not Michael.
Michael will keep plowing through the Southeast as a hurricane, with winds topping 73 mph as it crosses into Georgia.
“Because of the forward movement — the decent forward movement it has — you’re going to see a hurricane stay intact through southwest and central Georgia,” Long said.
“And then you’re going to see rainfall through South and North Carolina, dumping 4 to 6 inches of rain in rivers that are already saturated and haven’t really receded much from Florence a few weeks ago.”