Hurricane Florence And Michael Are Historic Hurricanes Awaiting Recovery

Two hurricanes hit the southeast in the span of a month.

Connor Hogan, Staff Writer

Hurricane Florence, the storm that literally would not leave, was finally on its way out three days after landfall.

Originating as a tropical wave of the coast of Africa. On August 31st, the disturbance had a well defined low-pressure area and was then declared tropical depression six. The storm would intensify into a tropical storm with sustained winds of 40 miles per hour on September 1 and was named Tropical Storm Florence. After a long period of strengthening and weakening, the storm reached peak intensity as a category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 140 miles per hour on September 9th.

Originally, Florence was forecasted to make landfall as a category 4 storm: the first one to hit since Hugo in ‘89. Florence headed east-northeast toward and remained a strong hurricane. The National Hurricane Center issued hurricane warnings as far North as the Virginia – North Carolina border and as far south as Myrtle Beach. As the storm crawled closer and closer to North Carolina, the winds gradually died down, and Florence was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane with the sustained winds of 90 miles per hour before landfall just north of Wilmington, NC on the morning of September 14 according to the National Hurricane Center. However, the strength of the storm was not the main problem locals faced.

Florence stalled and moved westward at the agonizingly slow pace of just 2 miles per hour for 3 days, hovering over the Carolinas causing record-breaking rainfall. Some isolated areas of the state got as much as 3 feet of rainfall from the stagnant storm. This caused rivers to rise, warranting many mandatory evacuations in the states in communities as far as 200 miles inland.

Early Monday, September 17th, Florence finally picked up speed with northern momentum and by 8:00 AM, the storm had completely left the Carolinas. Florence later dissipated into a remnant low of wind and rain over central Ohio. But the catastrophe was far from over.

As the inland rains moved from the mountains in western parts of the states to the Atlantic, they moved through the rivers already well above flood stage.

This caused previously soaked portions of the Carolinas to be bombarded with more runoff water from all the rain, and the rivers kept rising and rising. Rivers reached and even broke previous record heights above their banks – many of which were set by Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

Although the storm was not particularly strong at landfall with sustained winds of only 90 miles per hour, it was still one of the most catastrophic natural disasters the US has ever seen. As of October 5th, the storm was responsible for over 50 deaths, and upwards of 38 billion dollars in damage – the sixth costliest Atlantic Tropical Cyclone on record.

Just as all the chaos caused by Florence seemed to be getting under control, a new disturbance was getting its act together in the Southwestern Caribbean.

Then known as “Invest 91-L,” the system of wind and storms was looking more and more dangerous by the minute. Incubated by surface water temperatures near 90 degrees Fahrenheit and a gyre hovering over Central America, the new system was primed to develop further and rapidly intensify into a hurricane.
In the waning morning hours of October 7, the tropical depression had gained strength and sustained winds had reached 40 miles per hour, making it a tropical storm and earning a name: Michael.

The newly appointed tropical storm paced northward through the Yucatan channel with the Florida panhandle in its crosshairs. The intensifying Michael was fueled by the incredibly warm waters of the North Atlantic Drift, a very warm ocean current moving through the Gulf from the Caribbean, making the storm stronger and stronger. One day after Michael received its name, the storm had maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour, making it a hurricane. And the storm was not done yet.

The National Hurricane Center issued storm surge watches along the coastline from Alabama to St. Petersburg Florida. Hurricane Watches were in effect all throughout the Florida panhandle and even as far inland as Albany, Georgia. And as all this was going on, the situation was starting to look worse and worse. The storm was getting stronger and stronger as it barreled toward Florida’s coastline. And on the afternoon of October 9, Michael’s winds had reached 120 miles per hour. This made Michael the second major hurricane of the Atlantic Season, and it was only supposed to get stronger.

Mandatory evacuations were issued for over 100 counties in the states of Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency, pleading with state residents to get out of harm’s way. Over 1.5 million meals were prepared for residents after the record-breaking storm had its sights set on Florida.

Early Wednesday, October 10, Michael intensified to a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 130 miles per hour. Because the storm was still 180 miles south of the coastline it still had time to strengthen further before its inevitable landfall. This caught forecasters off guard. Nobody had foreseen the rapid intensification of this storm, but as strong as it was, it was still not close to its peak intensity.

Right before landfall, the storm’s winds had reached 155 miles per hour.

Not only was Michael the strongest one of the year, but it was also the most intense storm to hit the Florida Panhandle on record. In addition to this, it was also one of the strongest to ever hit the US mainland. Landfall site, Mexico Beach, Florida, was described by many as resembling the sight of a nuclear bomb detonation. The ferocious hurricane caused an estimated $3 million in property damage and a death toll of 20.

Both Hurricane Florence and Michael were incredibly catastrophic, deadly storms. However, they were both very different. Florence, a weaker, very slow moving storm, dumped many feet of rain over the Carolinas.