Hurricane Michael has now strengthened to a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph and higher gusts, forecast to make landfall in Florida on Wednesday, according to the latest data from the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
The storm has strengthened today over the warm Gulf of Mexico waters, with lighter than expected wind shear. This means that Michael is now expected to make its landfall in the Florida Panhandle area of the Gulf Coast as a Category 4 storm.
The NHC has warned that additional strengthening is expected, with experts warning of a life threatening situation from both winds and storm surge. The NHC also notes that hurricane Michael is now a strong category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, and is expected to have winds of around 130 knots (150mph) at landfall in its latest update.
At the same time, storm surge warnings have also been updated, and which include:Tyndall Air Force Base FL to Keaton Beach FL…9-13 ft;Okaloosa/Walton County Line FL to Tyndall Air Force Base FL…6-9 ft; Keaton Beach FL to Cedar Key FL…6-9 ft; Cedar Key FL to Chassahowitzka FL…4-6 ft; Chassahowitzka to Anna Maria Island FL including Tampa Bay…2-4 ft.
As well as the above storm surge warnings, 4-8 inches of rainfall, with isolated maximum amounts of 12 inches, have been forecast for the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend, southeast Alabama, and parts of Southwest and central Georgia.
While the remainder of Georgia, the Carolinas and southern Virginia, are expected to experience 3-6 inches rainfall, with isolated maximum amounts of 8 inches. The NHC warns that this type of flash flooding could threaten lives.
It remains very early to speculate how the storm might behave and react, so there’s still some uncertainty over the actual landfall strength. But currently, a landfall in the Panhandle region Wednesday looks extremely likely, which will put insurers, reinsurers, and also insurance-linked securities (ILS) players and markets on watch for any potential losses.
According to the latest data, Michael has maximum sustained winds of 150 mph with higher gusts, with strengthening expected as it approaches land. Currently, hurricane-force winds extend outwards as much as 45 miles and tropical-storm-force winds up to 185 miles from the centre of the storm.
The latest update from the NHC, says: “Michael is moving toward the north-northeast near 14 mph (22 km/h). A turn toward the northeast is expected this afternoon or tonight. A motion toward the northeast at a faster forward speed is forecast on Thursday through Friday night. On the forecast track, the core of Michael is expected to move ashore along the Florida Panhandle early this afternoon, move northeastward across the southeastern United States tonight and Thursday, and then move off the Mid-Atlantic coast away from the United States on Friday.
“Data from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate that the maximum sustained winds have increased to near 150 mph (240 km/h) with higher gusts. The aircraft also reported that the minimum pressure has fallen to 923 mb (27.26 inches). Some strengthening is still possible before landfall. After landfall, Michael should weaken as it crosses the southeastern United States. Michael is forecast to become a post-tropical cyclone on Friday, and strengthening is forecast as the system moves over the western Atlantic.”
Intensification and the ultimate location of landfall will be key for storm Michael, as both will have an impact on the potential for losses to go beyond insurer retentions and into reinsurance interests.
Insurers and reinsurers will be keeping a close eye on the storm, which, combined with a number of attritional catastrophes around the world in the second-half of this year, could have an impact on reinsurance rates at the upcoming renewals.