How Hurricane Michael became catastrophically strong overnight

After intensifying overnight, Hurricane Michael is now pummeling the Florida Panhandle as a Category 4 storm — the strongest hurricane on record to ever strike the region. Hundreds of thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate as Michael’s winds top speeds of 155 miles per hour, NBC News reports.

Storm surge is expected to bring flood waters reaching 14 feet high — and the Panhandle is already experiencing “life threatening storm surge, hurricane force winds, and heavy rainfall,” the National Hurricane Center says. For those who stayed put, it’s time to seek shelter out of the way of waves and wind, Florida Governor Rick Scott warned on Twitter: “The time for evacuating along the coast has come and gone.”

The storm is unusually strong because of a few things: warm water in the Gulf, favorable wind conditions, and humidity. “Those are the perfect ingredients for a storm like this to really blossom,” says Marshall Shepherd, director of the University of Georgia’s atmospheric sciences program and former president of the American Meteorological Society.

The storm intensified as it made landfall, the National Hurricane Center says — although it’s expected to weaken as it crosses over land. And after Hurricane Michael hits, Shepherd doubts we’ll see a hurricane with the same name again. “It’s a life-altering, society-altering situation,” he says. “Storms of this magnitude and impact, the name is typically retired. And I fully expect this to be the case for Michael.”

The Verge spoke with Shepherd about Hurricane Michael’s unprecedented strength.
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