Hurricane Michael reached wind speeds up to 125 mph on Tuesday night, coming within 5 mph of Category 4 status and increasing fear of greater devastation.
Could it make landfall as a Category 4?
If the storm’s strength does not dissipate as the hurricane center predicts, Michael will be one of the strongest storms to make landfall in Florida. Only six storms in the new century hit landfall on the Florida coasts as Category 3 or better, and only one, Charley, had winds above 120 mph. The most recent Category 3 hurricane or stronger to hit the state was Hurricane Irma (115 mph) in September 2017.
While wind speeds are expected to continue to intensify and could flirt with Category 4 status, Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach told USA TODAY that Michael will be a significant threat, regardless.
Whether Hurricane Michael makes landfall as a high Category 3 or a low Category 4 storm “doesn’t matter a ton,” he said.
The hurricane’s intensification won’t slow down until hits, or just before in shallow water near the coast, Klotzbach said. It developed rapidly, as Hurricane Michael only matched the attributes of a tropical depression Sunday morning.
Then the wind shear disrupting the hurricane’s circulation weakened, allowing wind speeds to intensify. An upper-level low pressure area that sheared the storm, making it lopsided, lifted out to the eastern U.S., Klotzbach said.