1 year later: Florida Panhandle still reeling from Hurricane Michael

Tracking the Tropics

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WFLA) – This week marks one year since Hurricane Michael slammed into Florida, becoming the strongest hurricane to ever make landfall in the Panhandle.

The massive storm brought intense winds, heavy rain and life-threatening storm surge that wreaked havoc along the Gulf Coast of Florida before moving inland.

Michael left death and widespread destruction in its wake, devastating several counties in the Panhandle before heading north. Those who survived the storm lost their homes, their possessions and their jobs. Buildings, businesses and roads were destroyed.

One year later, people living in the areas hit hardest by the storm are still working to pick up and rebuild what Michael destroyed.

Historic Landfall

Michael made landfall on Mexico Beach around 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018.

At the time, the National Hurricane Center estimated wind speeds to be 155 mph, making it a powerful Category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. About six months later, the NHC upgraded Michael to a Category 5 hurricane at landfall.

“Category 5 winds were likely experienced over a very small area at and near the coast, and the change in estimated wind speeds is of little practical significance in terms of the impacts associated with the storm,” NOAA scientists said in a news release back in April.

NWS image

Data from Hurricane Hunters and radar shows Michael was still intensifying at landfall. Based on wind speeds, Michael was the fourth-strongest storm to ever make landfall in the continental United States. Michael was the third most intense storm on record by minimum central pressure with a measurement of 919 mb at landfall.

The National Weather Service recorded peak storm surge inundation at 9 to 14 feet from Mexico Beach to Indian Pass. Rainfall in some areas of Florida reached 6.66 inches and flooding was recorded in several counties.

Michael was the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in the United States since Hurricane Andrew in 1992 – and just the fourth Category 5 hurricane on record in the U.S. It was the strongest hurricane to ever make landfall in the Florida Panhandle. Before 2018, the Panhandle had only ever seen nine other major hurricanes.

Five months after the hurricane, the storm name Michael was retired by the World Meteorological Organization. Storm names are retired if a storm is so deadly and destructive that using the name again in the future would be insensitive.

‘An Absolute Monster’

Entire blocks of homes were washed away by storm surge and wind from Michael. The town of Mexico Beach was almost completely wiped off the map. Data assessments from the NWS revealed damage to tens of thousands of structures that were in the path of the storm.

“This hurricane was an absolute monster,” then-Gov. Rick Scott said at the time. “Homes are gone, businesses are gone. Roads and infrastructures along the storm’s path have been destroyed.”

Damage from Hurricane Michael

Catastrophic damage was reported at Tyndall Air Force Base – a building that experienced the eye of the storm. A sensor at Tyndall measured a gust of 139 mph during the storm before the transmissions stopped.

An estimated 25 million cubic yards of debris was left behind after Michael.

Hurricane Michael knocked out power to nearly 100 percent of customers across a large portion of the Florida Panhandle, the NWS reported. Many families were in the dark for weeks as crews from more than a dozen states worked to clear downed lines, poles and transformers so they could rebuild systems and restore power.

The Victims

Shortly after landfall, emergency crews from all over the country rushed to the Gulf Coast to search for and rescue any survivors who tried to ride out the monster storm.

According to the NHC’s tropical cyclone report on Hurricane Michael, at least 50 people died in Florida as a result of the storm.

The report says seven of the deaths were caused directly by the winds, storm surge and rains from Hurricane Michael. The other 43 deaths currently known are indirect deaths. Those deaths include falls from post-storm cleanup, car crashes and medical issues.

The Cost of Rebuilding

According to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, Hurricane Michale caused an estimated $25 billion total damage in the United States. In Florida, the estimated damage cost is $18.4 billion, including about $3 billion of damage to Tyndall AFB.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that $1.9 billion in federal funds have been secured in the past year related to Hurricane Michael recovery.

An estimated 27,000 households have received housing assistance, FEMA reports. More than 900 households received temporary housing within the past year, while 2,000 had hotel costs paid. An additional 21,000 households had rent paid.

Hurricane Michael One Year Later Infographic (Courtesy: FEMA)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has installed about 7,800 Blue Roofs since Hurricane Michael. A Blue Roof is a blue fiber-reinforced plastic sheeting that covers a damaged roof until permanent repairs can be made.

FEMA also reports that $319.7 million in individual assistance has been approved. The agency says it has paid $192.9 million to other federal agencies to help with response and recovery.

Lasting Impacts

Nearly six months after Hurricane Michael, a wildfire ripped through the Panama City area and spread quickly through dead trees that had not yet been cleared from the storm. That fire came just months after Florida Forest Service officials expressed concern about the threat of wildfire.

Forest officials say it could take a decade or more for the state’s timber industry to recover from the nearly $1.3 billion in damage the storm caused. In a report released after the storm, state forest officials reported 1.4 million acres had severe or catastrophic damage.

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