Lazaro Aleman, ECB Publishing, Inc.
Following Governor Rick Scott's declaration of a state of emergency on Sunday for the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend areas, Jefferson County officials followed suit with their own declaration on Monday morning in preparation for Hurricane Michael, which experts said would likely make landfall on Wednesday, with conditions beginning to deteriorate by Tuesday night.
“As we continue to monitor this storm’s northward path toward Florida, it is critically important that our communities have every available resource to keep everyone safe and prepared,” Scott said in issuing the declaration, a sentiment echoed by local officials.
As of Tuesday morning, Oct. 9, Hurricane Michael was a Category 1 storm, with expectations that it would intensify to a Category 3 before making landfall.
“Steady to rapid strengthening is forecast during the next day or so, and Michael is forecast to become a major hurricane by Tuesday or Tuesday night,” stated a National Hurricane Center (NHC) advisory on Monday.
As of 7 a.m. Tuesday, Michael's center was located near latitude 24.5 North, longitude 86.1 West, and it was moving north/northwest through the southern Gulf at near 12 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph and higher gusts.
This put the storm about 395 miles south of Panama City and 365 miles south of Apalachicola.
“A north-northwestward to northward motion is expected through tonight, followed by a northeastward motion on Wednesday and Thursday,” the NHC reported. “On the forecast track, the center of Michael will continue to move over the southern Gulf of Mexico this morning, then move across the eastern Gulf of Mexico through tonight. The center of Michael is expected to move inland over the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend area on Wednesday, and then move northeastward across the southeastern United States Wednesday night and Thursday.”
As of Tuesday morning, hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 40 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extended outward up to 195 miles.
Warnings for the hurricane as of Tuesday morning extended for more than 300 miles of coastline, from the Alabama/Florida border to the Suwannee River.
According to the NHC's cone of probability, which projects a hurricane's likely trajectory, it showed the storm likely making landfall somewhere between Pensacola and Apalachicola. Experts cautioned, the cone was no guarantee of the storm's true path and it could change speed, direction and intensity as it moved across the Gulf. They advised residents to stay tuned to weather reports and continue to monitor the storm's progress throughout the coming days, further warning that a storm's worst winds are on its east side.
State and local officials, meanwhile, were encouraging residents to make storm preparations, including fueling up vehicles and the restocking of emergency preparedness kits with such necessities as flashlights, batteries, cash and first-aid supplies. They noted that power outages were almost certain, as high winds toppled trees and electric lines. They cautioned that people using generators make sure that the generators were properly ventilated.
The 13th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, Michael was expected to begin making its effects felt in the Big Bend area as early as Tuesday night in terms of torrential rainfall, damaging winds, coastal flooding and tornadoes. They expected that the storm's full impact would hit Wednesday and into Thursday.
Devastating hurricane effects are expected to expand inland far beyond the coast, the NHC warned.
“A potentially catastrophic event is developing,” the National Weather Service forecast office serving Tallahassee and surrounding areas said Monday. It warned of “widespread power outages, downed trees blocking access to roads and endangering individuals, structural damage to homes and businesses, isolated flash flooding and the potential for a few tornadoes.”
After lashing the the eastern Yucatán Peninsula and western Cuba on Monday, Michael was expected to strengthen upon entering the Gulf due to the warmer than normal sea-surface ocean temperature. Moreover, wind shear, which can slow a storm’s development, was forecast to ease, enabling the storm to gain intensity.
Models projected the storm would reach winds of 120 mph or more around the time of landfall. Uncertainty in terms of the landfall timing still persisted, however, with some models slowing landfall until Thursday. Models also differed in their forecasts for the storm’s intensity, meaning it could reasonably be stronger or weaker.
Regardless of the intensity, however, the NHC warned that low coastal areas would be vulnerable to storm surge, “regardless of the storm’s exact track or intensity.” The NHC is forecasting storm surge between 8 and 12 feet in certain areas along the coast.
Additionally, the NHC projected heavy rainfalls not only along the coast but into the interior and into Georgia and Southeast later in the week.
The NHC projected widespread rainfall amounts of four to eight inches from the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend areas north into Georgia and South Carolina, and isolated amounts of up to a foot. “This rainfall could lead to life-threatening flash floods,” it said.
In Jefferson County, Aucilla Christian Academy and Somerset High School announced they would close until Monday due to the hurricane and other reasons. The closures included athletic events, practices and other activities.
Somerset High School will serve as the local storm shelter, with its doors set to open at noon Tuesday. The shelter has a capacity of 809 persons. It is located at 50 David Road. Be mindful that Wakulla County is urging its residents to seek shelter in Leon and Jefferson counties, as its shelter is not rated for a Category 3 hurricane.
In Jefferson County, officials were urging a voluntary evacuation of residents in low lying areas. Should the evacuation become mandatory, officials said they would issue a statement to that effect.
Sand bags are available to residents for free. The sand bags can be gotten at the old fire station in Monticello, next to the Road Department off U.S. 19; at the Lloyd Volunteer Fire Department in Lloyd; and across the Wacissa Methodist Church and the old post office in Wacissa.
The county will supply the bags and sand, but residents must fill their own bags, which are limited to 10 per person. Bring your own shovel, officials advise.