Where Did Hurricane Michael Rank in History With Respect to Intensity? (credit: Dr. Philip Klotzbach)
DISCUSSION: It was only 72 hours ago at the National Weather Service (NWS) National Hurricane Center office located in Miami, Florida became increasingly concerned about the prospects of a potentially dangerous tropical cyclone developing somewhere within the eastern half of the Gulf of Mexico. However, as of 48 to 60 hours prior to what would end up being the landfall of Hurricane Michael, there was little confidence in this tropical cyclone becoming a major hurricane due to the presence of moderate vertical wind shear as well as an increased presence of dry air. But, as is quite common with the wonders of the Earth’s atmosphere, there are often surprises which arise during a given forecast process. The situation with Hurricane Michael went on to be no exception to this “golden rule”.
Within 2 days and then 1 day prior to landfall, the NWS National Hurricane Center quickly started adapting to the evolving forecast was for what was Tropical Storm Michael and then on to a Category 1 Hurricane Michael. At that point, there was approximately 24 to 36 hours left which was the point at which the intensity forecast continued to evolve even more quickly with time. It was at that point that Hurricane Michael continued to fend off the impacts of the nearby low/mid-level dry air as well as earlier vertical wind shear which was not anticipated earlier on in the forecast process. As this continued to unexpectedly happen with time, this led the forecasters working the Monday and Tuesday shifts to quickly adapt and project Michael to become at least a Category 2 or Category 3 (i.e., a major) hurricane by the time of landfall. However, what they could not foresee were the two distinct periods of rapid intensification which occurred in association with Hurricane Michael. The second of which occurred during the 24-hour period preceding the point of landfall on early Wednesday afternoon (EDT).
Attached above is neat graphic courtesy of Dr. Philip Klotzbach which helps to put the maximum intensity of Hurricane Michael as a Category 4 hurricane (and a borderline Category 5 hurricane which it flirted with by being with 2 mph short of that intensity pending further review in the coming weeks and months ahead) into a more historical context. Note how with respect to minimum central pressure for U.S. landfalling hurricanes, Hurricane Michael ranks number 3 of all landfalling U.S. hurricanes on record. Thus, it goes without saying that Hurricane Michael will now go down in history for the rest of time with some of the worst tropical cyclones to impact the contiguous United States in recorded history.
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© 2018 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz