As it moved toward Florida’s panhandle on a terrifying collision course, Hurricane Michael intensified in strength to become a raging Category 4. The storm picked up speed as it gained power, giving Florida little time to react or prepare for the devastation.
Hurricane Michael became a Category 4 hurricane overnight, and hit Florida with devastating 155 mph winds. That’s just 2 mph lower than a Category 5 hurricane. Michael became much more powerful once it found the unseasonably warm waters of the Gulf.
Those warm waters gave Michael new and unexpected intensity, The Verge reports.
Hurricane Michael is “a life-altering, society-altering situation,” says Marshall Shepherd, former president of the American Meteorological Society and current director of the University of Georgia atmospheric sciences program.
The hurricane began to move quickly as it made its way through the Gulf, gathering more and more energy until it roared over the Florida panhandle. The region is devastated following Michael’s force, with many buildings literally ripped to shreds.
Michael moved so quickly that many residents of Florida didn’t have time to react. It became a hurricane Monday, warnings to evacuate went out Tuesday, and on Wednesday it was raging through the panhandle, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. That’s a very fast-moving hurricane.
As of Thursday evening, Hurricane Michael is responsible for six deaths in Florida and catastrophic destruction in the state, CBS reports.
Hurricane Michael was the third most-powerful hurricane to ever hit the U.S., as far as weather records show. More than 900,000 homes and businesses are without power in the state following the storm’s destruction.
Michael was moving through North Carolina as of Thursday evening. The storm is now much less intense, but still capable of causing dangerous flash floods and high winds.
Scientists agree that warm Gulf waters fueled Michael. Ocean temperatures are going up and waters are becoming warmer due to climate change.
“Since we’ve got warm temperatures in the Gulf now, a hurricane has a much better chance to reach its maximum possible intensity, which appears to be what Michael is doing,” says Jennie Evans, professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, as reported by Reuters.
Rapid storm intensification like this is actually very rare, and it’s hard to predict when it will occur with any given storm. However, our ability to predict them is becoming better because it’s starting to become much less rare.
Scientists say that rapid intensifications, like this one, are happening more often. That means hurricanes as powerful as Michael could start to happen more often, too.