HOLT, Fla., April 19, 2019—The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has upgraded Hurricane Michael to a category 5 storm in a report released today.
In a post-storm analysis, Michael’s estimated wind speed, the determining factor for category strength, was 161 mph (140 knots), the fourth strongest on record.
Hurricane Michael was the first category 5 storm to make landfall on the Florida peninsula in history and only the fourth on record. A category 5 hurricane has not made landfall in the United States since Hurricane Andrew hit southern Florida in 1992.
Michael was the third-most-intense hurricane to make landfall in the United States in terms of low pressure. The 1935 Labor Day hurricane and Hurricane Camille in 1969 were the first and second most intense, respectively.
The storm is also the strongest hurricane landfall on record in the Florida panhandle and only the second known category 5 landfall on the northern Gulf coast.
The 13th named storm, the seventh hurricane and the second major storm of the 2018 season, Michael made landfall near Tyndall Air Force Base, southeast of Panama City Oct. 10.
Although the hurricane weakened rapidly after hitting land, it was still classified as a category 3 storm as it cross the Florida peninsula and moved into southwestern Georgia. It was the first time that area of Georgia had experienced a category 3 storm from the Gulf of Mexico.
Hurricane-force wind gusts were felt as far inland as Albany, Georgia.
Storm surge heights were estimated between 9 and 14 feet above ground level along portions of the Florida panhandle from just southeast of Tyndall AFB to Port St. Joe with the highest occurring in Mexico Beach.
Michael produced 16 tornadoes. Of those, two were in Florida, three in Georgia, four in South Carolina and seven in Virginia. All were EF-0 or EF-1 and only cause minor damage.
Winds, storm surge and rains caused 16 deaths, seven of those in Florida. Storm surge killed five people in Florida, all elderly ranging from 60-to-91 years old and occurred in storm surge evacuation zones. Two people died due to falling trees.
Hurricane Michael’s winds caused devastating-to-catastrophic damage in Mexico Beach and Tyndall AFB. In Mexico Beach, 1,584 building out of 1,692 were reported damaged with 809 being destroyed. Tyndall’s numbers weren’t available for the analysis, but every building was reported damaged and some destroyed.
Structures, agriculture and forestry along Michael’s path across the panhandle and into Alabama and Georgia saw major wind damage, according to the report.
NOAA has estimated Michael’s damage in the United States at approximately $25 billion. Of that, about $18.4 billion occurred in Florida, mostly to property and infrastructure, but some also to agriculture and forestry.
The name Michael has been retired from the hurricane name list by the World Meteorological Organization’s Region IV Hurricane Committee, which includes NOAA’s National Hurricane Center because of the fatalities and extensive damage caused by the storm.
The name was replaced with Milton and will first appear in the 2024 list of hurricane names.