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Estimates by catastrophe risk modelling firm AIR Worldwide Industry have put insured losses from Hurricane Michael at $6 billion to $10 billion.
AIR noted that when Michael made landfall hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 45 miles (75 km) from the centre of the system and tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 175 miles (280 km). It lost strength as it progressed across the Florida Panhandle and into south eastern Alabama and southwestern Georgia, weakening to a tropical storm.
“Fueled by unseasonably high 84-degree sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and unhindered by any prior landfall, hurricane Michael rapidly intensified shortly before making landfall at close to Category 5 intensity,” said Peter Sousounis, vice president and director of meteorology, AIR Worldwide.
“It struck near Mexico Beach in the Florida Panhandle on the afternoon of Wednesday, October 10, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph (250 km/h). The minimum central pressure at landfall—a key measure of hurricane strength—was 919 mb, the third lowest on record for a US hurricane. Michael is the most powerful hurricane to have come ashore in the Florida Panhandle since the first records were kept in 1851.”
“Most wind damage was confined to the Florida Panhandle and southern Georgia, although some local wind-related damage such as downed trees and power lines occurred farther north along the track into the Carolinas,” Sousounis explained. “Since Michael was a fairly rapidly moving storm, precipitation accumulation was far less than for Florence, although some of the areas previously flooded by Florence were already saturated. Forecasts of around 4 to 8 inches of rain along the track through the south eastern US were accurate, and these rains triggered some local flash flooding.”
While there are no depth measurements in Mexico Beach currently available, this community was in the right eyewall of Michael where storm surge is typically the highest, AIR Worldwide noted. “Catastrophic storm surge damage in Mexico Beach virtually obliterated this community,” according to the corporate statement. Video taken during hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach shows surge that has reached the undersides of the rooflines there. Given that typical ceiling height is 8 to 9 feet, it is safe to assume that surge reached at least 8 feet above ground and potentially more than 10 feet. In addition, a National Ocean Service water level station at Apalachicola reported around 8.5 feet of surge above mean sea level shortly after landfall.
At Tyndall Air Force Base, which is west of Mexico Beach, a wind gust of 129 mph was measured. The base saw significant damage to structures, aircraft, and vehicles, including an aircraft hangar that lost its entire roof, revealing damaged fighter jets inside.
The residential community of Mexico Beach suffered the brunt of Michael’s fury and the majority of structures in that town were destroyed, primarily by storm surge. While Mexico Beach’s year-round population is 2,000, it is a popular tourist destination for sports-fishing. Panama City—and the surrounding areas of Lynn Haven and Callaway, which are located approximately 20 miles to the west of Mexico Beach—was also hit hard by hurricane Michael. Damage to single-family and manufactured homes ranged from minor roof damage to complete destruction. Heavy damage was also reported for small commercial structures, hotels, hospitals, and schools.
Based on initial damage reports, Panama City Beach, which is located right on the Gulf, seemed to fare slightly better than the more inland Panama City; however, heavy damage was also reported in Panama City Beach, AIR Worldwide said.
Farther inland, the City of Tallahassee, the state capital, reported a number of trees down, but the majority of the trees fell in yards or on roads with relatively few reports of structural damage caused by tree fall.
Initial reports indicate little significant structural damage in Georgia and the majority of initial reports coming from Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia indicated downed trees in roadways but very little structural damage, AIR Worldwide noted.
AIR, Hurricane Michael, losses, wind, storm, surge, insured, Florida Panhandle, estimates