How Historic Was Hurricane Michael Really? (Photo Credit: The Weather Channel and the National Hurricane Center)
DISCUSSION: Earlier this month, on October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael made landfall along the Panhandle of Florida, over the city of Mexico Beach. Michael made landfall as a strong Category 4 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph. In addition to the strong winds, Hurricane Michael’s central pressure was exceptionally low, at 919 mb. The winds, combined with storm surge as high as 12 feet in some areas, lead to devastating destruction of land and property along the path of the hurricane. Due to all of this, Hurricane Michael is already being called a historical event, but just how rare is an event like Hurricane Michael.
For starters, it is rare for a hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States as a Category 4 or greater. Since 1851 there have only been 27 hurricanes to do so, with the greatest number making landfall over Florida, as can be seen in the image above. However, despite this, since the United States began keeping a record of hurricanes there has never been a Category 4 or 5 hurricane to make landfall along the Florida panhandle. Therefore, the location that Michael made landfall by itself makes it historic.
Aside from its location, it was also the first hurricane to make landfall in the United States in the month of October as a Category 4 or higher storm since Hurricane Hazel 64 years ago. Hurricane Hazel was a Category 4 hurricane when it made landfall near the border of North Carolina and South Carolina on October 15, 1954. Its estimated maximum winds were between 130 mph and 150 mph and had storm surge that reached 18 feet along portions of North Carolina. The storm then moved northward into Canada, where it dropped 11 inches of rainfall in Toronto.
Hurricane Michael’s minimum central pressure also makes it unique. Since 1851 there have only been two storms, The Florida Keys Labor Day Storm in 1935 and Hurricane Camille in 1969, that had a lower central pressure at landfall. The Labor Day storm made landfall as a Category 5 storm with a central pressure of 892 mb in the Florida Keys. It then turned to the northeast and made a second landfall as a Category 2 storm near Cedar Key Florida. Hurricane Camille was also a Category 5 when it made landfall along the Mississippi coast with a central pressure of 900 mb. Its maximum wind speed was not recorded because the wind instruments in the path of the storm were destroyed but winds along the coast were estimated to be 200 mph. Hurricane Michael also beat Hurricane Katrina’s minimum central pressure which was 920 mb, though not by much. Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, had been a Category 5 storm with a minimum pressure of 902mb the day before landfall but at the time of landfall on Aug 29 it had weakened to a Category 3 and its minimum pressure increased.
The location, time of year, and the minimum central pressure of the Hurricane Michael for sure make it an historical event. However, these factors alone will likely not be the only reasons Hurricane Michael will live in infamy. In the following weeks, months, and years we will continue to examine the storm and likely find other factors that will add to the historic nature of this event. Even more, we do not know the economic impact the storm had, and the amount of property and loved ones lost.
Additional information about memorable hurricanes to hit the US can be found at: https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/outreach/history/
To learn more about other high-impact tropical cyclone stories from around the world, be sure to click here!
© 2018 Meteorologist Sarah Trojniak