Hurricane Michael Officially Upgraded to Cat 5

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By Daniel Jones

In the final report published recently by the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Michael was officially upgraded to a Category 5 hurricane!

The National Weather Service does a fantastic job measuring, tracking, and modeling hurricanes. Their full report on Hurricane Michael was published on April 19th and the final wind speed at landfall was confirmed at 160mph, granting it Cat 5 status, the 4th EVER Cat 5 landfall in the continental United States.

Since 1851, there have been over 900 hurricanes, but only four have made landfall in the continental U.S. as a Category 5: the Labor Day hurricane (1935), Hurricane Camille (1969), Hurricane Andrew (1992), and now Hurricane Michael. Other than Camille, they have all hit Florida.

A storm’s category is based purely on wind speed. Cat 3 starts at 111 mph, Cat 4 at 130, and Cat 5 is anything over 157mph. This number has a fairly wide margin of error, making the difference between categories more blurred than we may be accustomed to. It’s a simplistic category that omits vital information such as pressure, storm surge, inundation, width, forward motion, rainfall, and tells you little about the threat it really poses. After all, the two costliest storms on record, Harvey and Katrina, were both Cat 3 at landfall.
Twenty-four hours before Michael made landfall as a Cat 5 with 160 mph winds, it was a Category 2 storm with 100mph winds. Storms commonly weaken as they approach land, making Michael’s intensification overnight even more surprising and catching many off-guard.

Over the next day, it strengthened to become the third most intense storm landfall on record, behind only Labor Day and Camille. It struck near Tyndall AFB around 5:30 p.m. on October 10, produced 16 known tornadoes and directly caused 16 deaths. USGS storm surge sensors at Mexico Beach pier recorded a 15-foot surge. On the north side of Hwy. 98, water reached 11 feet above the base of a building (aka inundation). That’s above the first floor!

By the numbers: Damages from Hurricane Michael are estimated at roughly $25 billion. According to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, the estimated insured losses is $6.2 billion from around 145,000 claims. More than 70,000 homeowners filed claims and 80% have already been settled. Commercial property is further behind, only 61% of 10,000+ claims have been settled.

As of April 9th 2019, FEMA has approved $141million for individual assistance applications, over $200 million for National Flood Insurance claims, and $629 million in SBA loans. Total FEMA assistance tops out just over $1billion. If you are doing the math you will realize that the amount paid by these sources is far too little to reach the estimated total loss. That is because much of it may never be recovered, such as $1 billion agricultural losses, $1 billion timber losses, clean-up expenses, future economic losses from lost revenue, uninsured losses, and city and county facilities.

Our state legislators have been pushing to get the storm recategorized to a Cat 5 ever since it happened, hoping to increase awareness of its impact. Now is the time to contact our senators and ask for more money to be allocated to disaster relief from the federal level.

If you feel compelled to help reach out to senator, George Gainer. His email is gainer.george.web@flsenate.gov and his phone number is (850) 747-5454.
As a third-generation small business, it’s not our first time seeing a Cat 5 and we plan to be around to help when the next once-a-generation storm comes.

Daniel Jones is a third-generation insurance agent in Destin. He graduated with a degree in Risk Management from the University of Georgia.