Hurricane Michael weakened to tropical storm Thursday but remained a menace as it rolled across the Southeast, leaving two dead after tearing a path of devastation through the Florida Panhandle and parts of Georgia.
The storm will go down in history as the third strongest to hit the United States mainland in recorded history after making landfall Wednesday as a Category 4 colossus with sustained winds of 155 mph — just 2 mph short of iconic Category 5 status.
“I’m urging residents of impacted areas to continue to stay off the roads and listen to your local authorities so that our first responders and utility crews can do their jobs,” Gov. Rick Scott tweeted Thursday. “We’re working diligently to get to everyone as quickly as we can.”
Where is the storm now?
As of 8 a.m. ET, the storm was centered 40 miles west of Columbia, South Carolina with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph. The storm was rolling northeast at 21 mph. A turn toward the east-northeast and an even faster forward speed are expected on Friday.
What damage has Michael wrought?
Thousands of homes and businesses were blown apart as Michael cut its swath across the Florida Panhandle and into Georgia. An 80-mile stretch of I-10 west of Tallahassee was closed to clear debris. Beaches disappeared, military bases were damaged, cars and trucks were flipped and smashed. Power outages affected almost 700,000 customers in the two states alone. Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina reported more than 160,000 outages.
Was the storm a record-breaker?
Michael was the strongest storm to ever hit the Florida Panhandle, and the only hurricane to do so as a Category 4. It also was an October icon – the strongest continental United States hurricane to make an October landfall based on maximum sustained winds at 155 mph. And its low pressure – the lower the pressure the more severe the storm – also set an October record of 919 millibars.