(WTXL) — Almost one year since Hurricane Michael, many people in our viewing area are still struggling to find some normalcy in the rubble the Category 5 storm left behind.
The Category 5 storm first made landfall near Mexico Beach. It was responsible for at least 59 deaths and caused more than $25 billion in damage.
Tallahassee was spared from the worst of it but several cities in the surrounding area, including Chattahoochee, Carrabelle, Eastpoint, St. George Island, Marianna and Mexico Beach, were highly impacted.
From disturbance to tropical storm to hurricane
Between the 1st and 2nd day of October 2018, a large area of disturbed weather formed over the central and western Caribbean Sea and absorbed the remains of Tropical Storm Kirk.
Around October 7, 2018, this disturbance off the Central American coast begin to gather more attention. Forecasters anticipated that the disturbance was "likely" to grow into Tropical Storm Michael.
While they expected it to be a rainmaker, they didn't project the storm to reach hurricane force.
Just hours later in a follow up advisory, the National Hurricane Center officially upgraded the storm to Tropical Storm Michael, it's track aiming for the Florida with anticipated landfall to the coast on Wednesday, October 10, 2018.
The first hurricane, tropical storm, and storm surge watches were issued along Florida's coast, all the way up to the Mississippi-Alabama border.
The next morning, NHC officially upgraded the storm to a Category 1 hurricane. At the time, the storm was expected to make landfall as a Category 3 hurricane along the Florida Panhandle or the Big Bend.
Taylor, Jefferson and Gadsden counties were among the first Big Bend counties to declare local state of emergencies, Taylor County commissioners also issuing a voluntary evacuation order for all coastal and low lying areas.
Wakulla County followed suit, commissioners instead ordering mandatory evacuations for Zone A, which is mostly comprised of coastal and low lying areas, as well as mobile homes and other weak structures.
Jackson, Franklin, Bay, Citrus, Dixie, Gulf, Levy, Okaloosa, and Walton also issued mandatory evacuations while voluntary or phased evacuations were issued in Leon, Liberty, Madison, Calhoun, Hernando, Pasco, Santa Rosa, Washington and Escambia counties.
Scrambling to prepare
As Michael continued to intensify, preparations became more frantic, food and water quickly flying off the shelves as businesses announced they'd be shutting down ahead of the storm.
Generators also sold out and gas stations scrambled to refill after a surges of people stocked up on gasoline.
Then Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum stressed that residents shouldn't underestimate this storm, saying Michael could be a more powerful system than Hermine. While Hermine hit Florida as a Category 1, it crippled Tallahassee's power system, leaving many in the dark for weeks.
"For sake of comparison for folks in this community, it's important to point out that this storm will be as bad if not more powerful than Hurricane Hermine and it's impacts," said Gillum. "This could be a more powerful system than Hermine."
In a one-on-one interview with WTXL on October 9, 2018, former Florida Governor Rick Scott urged Floridians along the state's Panhandle and the Big Bend that the time for preparation ahead of the storm was running out.
Both Rick Scott and Georgia Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency ahead of Hurricane Michael.
Over the course of 24 hours, Michael strengthened from a Category 1 to a Category 4 major hurricane as it passed over the warm waters of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. At 8 a.m. on October 10, 2018, Michael was packing 145 mph winds with even stronger gusts.
The enter of the storm was less than 100 miles from the Apalachicola by 8 a.m., though many in our area were already feeling the effects as hurricane, tropical storm and storm surge warnings were issued for the entire Big Bend as well as some south Georgia counties.
Over the next few hours, water levels continued to rise and winds blustered through the area, resulting in an extreme wind warning being issued for Bay, Gulf and Frankllin counties as the storm's eyewall approached.
By 1 p.m. NHC reported that Michael had strengthened with a minimum pressure of 919 mb, making it deeper than Hurricane Andrew.
It looked like Michael was set to hit Tallahassee and the surrounding area directly. However, Michael turned northeastward before reaching the northern Gulf Coast, that critical turn sparing the Capital City from the worst of the storm.
At 1:38 p.m. on October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida with sustained winds of 155 mph.
By 2 p.m. a National Ocean Service water level station at Apalachicola reported receiving more than 7.7 feet of rain above ground level. By 4 p.m., four to seven inches of rain had already fallen in our coverage area.
Storm surge heights produced by Michael were estimated at 9–14 ft above ground level (AGL) along a portion of the Florida Panhandle coast from just southeast of Tyndall AFB to Port St. Joe in Bay and Gulf Counties, respectively, with the highest surge occurring in Mexico Beach.
Unlike Dorian, the most recent major hurricane to gain national attention, Michael was a fast moving storm, quickly crossing over the I-10 corridor in Jackson County. It rapidly weakened as it crossed the central Florida Panhandle and moved into Georgia.
By 5:30 a.m. on October 11, 2018, tropical storm warnings for all local counties had been discontinued as Michael weakened into a tropical storm and pushed into the Carolinas.
While Michael left the Florida Panhandle and south Georgia just as quickly as it came, the destruction it left behind is still lingering.
On October 11, 2018, President Donald Trump declared a major disaster in five counties: Bay, Franklin, Gulf, Taylor and Wakulla.
In the days following Michael, WTXL we learned four people were killed in Gadsden County, at least one of the deaths involving a tree falling through a victim's home. An 11-year-old girl was also killed in Seminole County after a carport was swept up by the wind, crashed through the roof, hitting the girl on her head.
In total, the NHC reported that Michael caused 16 direct deaths: Seven in Florida, five in Virginia, three in North Carolina, and one in Georgia. The storm is also responsible for 43 other indirect deaths, all in Florida.
Michael produced 16 known tornadoes, including two in Florida, three in Georgia, four in South Carolina, and seven in Virginia. The tornadoes were all rated EF-0 or EF-1 and caused only minor damage.
In Jackson County, including the town of Marianna, 400 buildings were reportedly destroyed and 600 more suffered major damage. In Seminole County, 99 percent of the homes were reportedly damaged along with severe damage to timber and agriculture.
In Franklin County, an additional 80 structures were reported destroyed and coastal highways were also washed out in several places between Panama City and Alligator Point.
Road to recovery
Despite the havoc Michael wrought on the Florida Panhandle, the community came together to organize recovery efforts almost immediately.
In the wake of the hurricane, first responders in our area were in emergency response mode and worked around the clock to assist with clean up, recovery, and keeping those in the community safe.
Students from the University of Florida, the Second Harvest of the Big Bend, Farm Share, students from Florida A&M University, Florida State athletes and thousands of people with the National Guard offered their hands and hearts to help the ravaged region recover.
Evacuees from all over the state also made their way into the Capital City to seek refuge.
"One of the reasons all throughout the storm recovery I said it was important for us to get back to 100 percent is because I knew we would play a larger role in the region," said then Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. "By Wednesday, that tent camp will be erected and it will begin to play a tremendous role in helping the region further west become recovered."
Throughout the next several months, we covered stories depicting hardship as well as hope. From the destruction arose a rallying message: #PanhandleStrong.
Illuminating the path ahead
While the area has made progress, some parts of our viewing area have years before they can be restored to their former glory.
As we approach one year since Michael, we're looking back to tell the stories of those who never fully recovered, those who are still working to help others and those whose stories still have yet to be told.
Our goal in our story telling is to illuminate the areas that have been left in the dark and highlight the path forward.
Do you have a Hurricane Michael you want to share with us? Send an email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 850-893-1313.
To check out our extensive Hurricane Michael coverage, click here. To see a gallery depicting the damage left behind by Hurricane Michael back in 2018, click here.