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Hurricane Michael Wreaks Havoc On Florida's Panhandle


This morning, Floridians who rode out Hurricane Michael are waking up to see devastation. Panama City resident Vance Beu (ph) described the experience as this massive storm came through.

VANCE BEU: It was terrifying, honestly. There was a lot of noise. I mean, we thought the windows were going to break any time. We had the inside windows kind of barricaded in with mattresses. I mean, we did whatever we could, just kind of hunkered down and tried to wait it out.

GREENE: Trees came down. Roofs were ripped off. Homes were just taken off their foundations. At least two people we know of at this point were killed. And now Michael is a tropical storm. It still has a lot of life left in it, though, as it heads north and east across Georgia and into the Carolinas.

Meteorologist Jeff Huffman with Florida Public Radio joins me now from Gainesville, Fla. Jeff, good morning.

JEFF HUFFMAN: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So just listening to that resident describe this - a lot of noise, windows sounding like they were going to break any time - this was a storm all about wind strength, right? I mean, is that what really made this distinctive?

HUFFMAN: Yeah, it certainly was different than Florence in terms of the wind was much more powerful. And, as we are finding out this morning, it penetrated much further inland. Truly a top event, if not a historic event. I think we're going to have to wait to see what the official numbers are, but this was likely the strongest hurricane to ever hit the Panhandle of Florida in our recorded history of hurricanes. And it's a top three to hit the United States in terms of its pressure. It even had lower pressure than Hurricane Andrew hitting South Florida in 1992.

So certainly an event that we always fear for. If you remember, our forecasts are always built around kind of a reasonable worst-case scenario. And unfortunately, this may have came to pass in the Panhandle.

GREENE: Wow. So I know we've heard from Florida's governor, who said, you know, he's hoping to get rescue crews, you know, into some of these areas that were hard-hit as quickly as possible. We might not know for a little while how catastrophic this damage is.

HUFFMAN: We might not. We were in awe when we saw the eye come ashore. And that eye was held and very compact and was very stable and very consistent for almost a hundred miles inland. There was still a clear spot in the center of this storm a hundred miles inland.

Also, you know, we may have - I hate to say this, and I'm very sensitive to all those dealing with the damage this morning, but we did kind of - there was - the storm was about 10 miles to the east of the most populated areas, so we still probably will - it'll be some time before we really can assess how much damage occurred where it came ashore. Panama City is the largest population center that took the brunt of this on the west side, and winds there were well over 100 miles per hour.

GREENE: Was there something about this storm that made it intensify so quickly? I mean, I know you weren't caught off guard. You were watching this thing for a while.


GREENE: But it felt like all of us reporting on it were sort of like, wow, this thing is getting strong, and it's getting strong fast.

HUFFMAN: I think we kind of forget about the weekend effect because a lot of us were watching this heading into the weekend. The winds increased dramatically because it had very light wind shear aloft over the Gulf, and the Gulf temperatures were unusually warm, running 3 to 5 degrees above normal. So all those conditions did come to make this a major hurricane very quickly.

It has happened before. Typically, these type of intensifications happen over the Caribbean, so it was a bit unusual for this to happen over the central, and especially northern, Gulf of Mexico. But the Hurricane Center did explicitly forecast this to rapidly intensify, and it certainly outperformed some of those numbers even still.

GREENE: So Michael's a tropical storm now. I mean, it's weakened. It's come inland. But it is heading to the Carolinas - you know, a place where people are still getting - I mean, recovering from Hurricane Florence. I mean, how bad could things get there, even though the storm has been downgraded?

HUFFMAN: Yeah. This morning it's near Augusta, Ga., and there's a large area of very heavy rain over Columbia, S.C., that's moving through the midstates of South Carolina and North Carolina. Unfortunately, as you mentioned, it will bring the river levels back up again. The good news is it's accelerating, so it is going to move pretty quickly. It'll be out of South Carolina by this evening and out of North Carolina by tomorrow afternoon.

A general 2 to 5 inches of rain will be expected near and west of I-95. And this afternoon, David, there is a tornado risk for eastern portions of South Carolina, eastern portions of North Carolina. Certainly - in fact, more rain's going to fall from this in Columbia, for example, then from Florence because this is hitting more on the hill country of the Carolinas. Some better news, though, is it is accelerating as it pulls away.

GREENE: Jeff Huffman is a meteorologist with Florida Public Radio. We really appreciate your time this morning, Jeff.

HUFFMAN: All right. You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.