Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach in the Florida Panhandle around 1:40 p.m. after strengthening into a Category 4 hurricane with 155 mph winds. As of Thursday morning, it has downgraded to a tropical storm as it moves through eastern Georgia.
Honeymoon Island dunes damaged
Dunes on the north beach at Honeymoon Island suffered washout and parking lots were flooded and damaged in the wake of Michael, said Kari Cowan, 56, of Clearwater who visited this morning
"This is the worst I have seen Honeymoon since I started hiking there in 2007," said Cowan
“The parking lots flooded last year with Irma too and they actually shut down the park but I don’t recall this much damage,” she said . "North strand has narrowed but not like this. Fences down, rocks up on the asphalt. Steady declines over the past 5-6 years after they did a beach replenishment project but this is a substantial hit.
-- Howard Altman
Ground zero: View the devastation in Mexico Beach
By Zachary T. Sampson and Douglas R. Clifford
Fires burn with no one to put them out. Cars and trucks stacked like toys. Stairs lead to houses that no longer exist. Trees bent over, as if trying to run from something.
Hurricane Michael slammed into North Florida on Wednesday with historic fury. The Category 4 storm is the most powerful storm on record to strike the Panhandle, blasting it with storm surge up to 10 feet and 155-mph winds — just two miles shy of Category 5 strength.
But one of the communities hit hardest was Mexico Beach, a town of about 1,100 near where the monster storm first made landfall.
The coastal village was struck by the notorious front right quadrant of the storm’s eye, and it showed.
Track Hurricane Michael flooding in real time.
Hurricane Michael crashed ashore Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 storm, ravaging the Florida Panhandle with 155-mph winds and a brutal storm surge.
Already, flood waters have swamped hard hit areas. But remember, even after hurricanes pass, they often leave overflowing rivers and streams in their wake. Flood waters can take weeks to recede.
The Tampa Bay Times is collecting water height data from across the state in real-time. In the map below, click on any dot to see how high the water has risen, based on the most recent measurement available. As flooding gets worse and worse, more dots will turn blue. By Wednesday afternoon, Spring Creek and the Sopchoppy River in Wakulla County had already flooded.
-- Langston Taylor
Follow our list of reporters who were out in the field providing live coverage of Hurricane Michael, locally and in the Flolrida Panhandle
On the ground reporting
Tallahassee damage not as severe as expected
As Hurricane Michael churned its way into Georgia Wednesday evening, Tallahassee appeared mostly spared from the storm, with extensive power outages but little of the catastrophic damage that officials feared.
By 7 p.m., Tallahasseans were already venturing outside their homes and clearing debris from their yards in the city's Midtown and Old Town neighborhoods.
Outside of a few uprooted trees, the debris was mostly small, with the capital city's live oaks withstanding the tropical storm-force winds.
Leon County officials feared Tallahassee was facing the worst storm to hit the area since 1894.
But more that 58,000 people, or about half the city’s customers, were without power as of 6 p.m., according to the city’s electric utility, which was already sending out crews to get customers back on the grid.
-- Lawrence Mower, Miami Herald
Gov. Scott warns that Florida isn’t in the clear
As Hurricane Michael, still a major Category 3 storm, spun into southwest Georgia Wednesday evening, Gov. Rick Scott warned Floridians were not yet in the clear from the hurricane’s inclement weather.
The governor, who requested a major disaster declaration from the federal government earlier that day, said the state had heard reports of two “devastating” tornadoes in Gadsden County and that they could still be possible elsewhere. He also warned Floridians to stay off the roads for first responders and be cautious using generators as crews fanned out to assess the damage.
“If it’s not safe to leave your homes, don’t leave them,” he added. “Listen to your local officials.”
Hurricane Michael ravaged swaths of communities along the coastline, leveling homes in Mexico Beach near where it made landfall and dealing substantial damage to installations like Tyndall Air Force Base. The storm, Scott said, also knocked roofs off buildings along its destructive plow through northwest Florida, including some correctional facilities he said were still assessing the structural damage.
388,160 homes and businesses across the Panhandle and Big Bend regions were also left without power Wednesday evening, according to the state.
Scott said search and rescue teams had already begun being deployed south toward Bay County and other affected areas along the coast, as well as by air and from the Coast Guard, stationed in Tampa and Alabama.
No fatalities have yet been reported, but Scott said he was concerned about people who did not evacuate ahead of the storm. More than 375,000 people had fallen under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders before Michael hit.
“It came really fast,” he said. “I’m still praying we didn’t lose anybody. That was disappointing to me that everyone didn’t evacuate.”
Scott shied from assessing how prepared local communities had been in Michael’s wake, though his state emergency management chief had criticized some of their preparedness efforts in the hours leading up to landfall.
“We’ll see over time if people were ready,” he said. “This was a big storm, you’ve seen a lot of the videos that were out there.”
-- Elizabeth Koh, Miami Herald
Germans visiting state shocked from Florida experience
Stefanie and Jo Schultz, standing behind the Trade Winds Beach Resort in St. Pete Beach watching workers set up for a wedding with a bagpiper, said they were visiting from overseas and couldn’t quite believe what they had been through.
"We are here on vacation from Germany for two weeks on vacation and we have been through the Red Tide, sea grass on the beach and now the hurricane," Mrs. Schultz said, eyeing the wedding preparations as dark clouds and intermittent rain swept over the beach.
But when asked if they would come back again, they said of course.
"It's so nice here in Florida," Mrs. Schultz said.
Further down the beach, Kim and Craig Ciborek, frequent visitors from Cleveland, wandered along the shoreline that had recently been inundated by a high tide that reached to the backs of some beach condominiums. A large pool of water was still covering part of a volleyball play area behind one of t he condos.
"I don't think I've ever seen it like this," Mrs. Ciborek said. "This is definitely different than it was just six months ago."
Still, the couple said they found the pounding waves and blustery winds quite marvelous, even if it brought up on the beach quite a few dead fish apparently killed by the offshore Red Tide.
“We’re seeing nature at its most powerful,” Mrs. Ciborek explained.
-- Craig Pittman
Downtown Tampa experiences some road closures
Flooding from storm surge brought by #HurricaneMichael has caused a handful of road closures throughout downtown Tampa, according to the city’s emergency operations center.
Minor flooding has shut down a strip of northbound Bayshore Boulevard between Swann Avenue and Rome Avenue, Tampa police said. Police are on site and will continue to divert traffic in the area until high tide subsides. Another stretch of northbound Bayshore Boulevard, around Platt Street, is flooded but passable, Tampa police said. But water on the northbound lanes of Bayshore leading to Davis Island is too deep for vehicles, police said
-- Anastasia Dawson
Times Staff photographers have been out and about all day to bring live coverage of what the area looks like.
Gov. Scott asks Trump to declare major disaster in FL
Shortly before 4 p.m., Gov. Rick Scott announced he had requested President Donald Trump declare a major disaster in Florida, which would speed up resources and assistance from the federal government. The request calls for full federal funding for debris removal and emergency protective measures, as well as additional federal money for other types of public assistance for counties. The state, according to Scott’s letter, has already spent nearly $40 million on responding to Michael.
Trump, at Scott’s request, had issued a pre-landfall Emergency Declaration Tuesday that opened up federal funding for some of the state’s costs and 14 of the most affected counties.
-- Elizabeth Koh, Miami Herald
Panama City resembles war zone
In the old historic district of Panama City, just past 2 p.m., the streets resembled a war zone. Tree branches littered the streets. Roofs peeled off. The large golden arches of a McDonald’s lay face first on the flooded pavement.
Gusts tore off the roof off the roof of the First Presbyterian Church, and toppled a large brick facade of is adjacent education center, the site of Panama City’s first high school in the 1900s.
Along Harrison Avenue, the main business strip, gusts exploded the glass windows at Harris Business Machines, leaving the rain to soak a series of copy machines. A ripped awning hung by a thin threat off one storefront. Decorative city trash cans rolled along the pavement like metal tumble weeds.
During the height of the storm, Mike Lindsey and his wife were trying to plug leaks in their business, Elegant Endeavors Antique Shop. The building’s owner had refused to board up the windows.
“My wife and I were standing back always because we could see them wobbling back and forth. We knew they were going to go,” Lindsey said.
The windows exploded loudly, hurling glass onto the street and atop an antique chair, an oil painting and a skeleton pirate Halloween decoration. “It was very dramatic. Very intense,” Lindsey said.
-- David Ovalle, Miami Herald
Power outages already running rampant
As the storm straddled I-10 Wednesday afternoon and kept inching north, winds and rain in Tallahassee began to worsen steadily.
The local National Weather Service station had reported as the storm was approaching that it lost communications with its radar around 1:30 p.m., and subsequent bands of gusts began to topple several trees in the area, including Midtown. As of 4:30 p.m., more than 52,000 of Tallahassee’s 120,000 customers were without power, according to the municipal electric utility, and 35,000 without Talquin power in the rest of the county — nearly 90,000 people without power as winds continued to batter the region.
Scott and Gillum, who have sparred over power restoration in Tallahassee, spoke on a call shortly before 3 p.m. to discuss storm updates, the mayor tweeted. Scott also spoke with the city’s utilities director, Duke Energy’s state president in Florida and Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil.
-- Elizabeth Koh, Miami Herald
“You never mess with water.”
As water began spilling across roads near the marinas in Hernando Beach, Laura Cottrell was selling some beer.
The 38-year-old manager of Hernando Beach Gas Stop N Go joked with booze buyers Wednesday afternoon, around the time high tide was said to peak. She listened as one patron grumbled about a relative who hadn't moved their junker.
"It's the surge — that's what everybody's worried about," she told the Times afterward. "Most of our regular residents have just started finishing fixes from Irma, and if they get flooded again, it's going to hurt."
As a precaution yesterday, she pulled the wooden dock behind the waterfront store onto the grass. After her customers left Wednesday, she walked back to the yard and surveyed the water levels.
"It's a lot deeper now than it was," she said, referring to how much had pooled onto the sea wall there since yesterday. She believed it would get worse.
"I've seen the water do crazy things," she said. "You never mess water, never mess with fire."
The most noticeable uptick in purchases she had seen? People were buying between four and six packs of cigarettes rather than their usual one or two.
-- Justin Trombly
As high tide nears, Pasco residents survey existing flooding
An hour and a half before high tide in Pasco County, water was already rising in a neighborhood near the Pithlachascotee River.
Water covered the intersection of Cotee River Drive and Bellview Ave, in New Port Richey, and several neighbors had all parked their cars on the same small knoll.
Mark Alexander, 50, had watched through his window, and now he came outside to survey the flooding.
“I didn’t want to be surprised — putting my feet down and they’re wet, ‘What the hell?’” he said.
He’d lived in Florida on and off for years and moved to this home in March, he said, and he’d prepared himself for the event of a bigger storm, with two weeks of ready-to-eat meals for him and his wife.
This didn’t seem like it would necessitate those rations, but he couldn’t help but notice the water covering the drainage grates on either side of his driveway.
“I’m concerned,” he said.
-- Jack Evans
Wind and Rain pummel the parking area at MainStay Suites, a hotel in Port St. Joe on Wednesday morning as Hurricane Michael approaches the Florida Panhandle with its main target estimated to be in the area of Panama City. (Oct. 10, 2018) Video by: Douglas R. Clifford, Tampa Bay Times
Sloppy surf brings ‘daredevils’ to St. Pete Beach
In St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island there was little sign that anything different from a regular rainy Florida day was going on. As high tide approached, some standing water crept a bit higher in alleyways but it wasn't enough to impede traffic on the main roads.
Instead, the one sign that a hurricane was passing by was the large number of daredevils with eager faces flocking to the beaches for the higher-than-usual swells.
"That's what we like," explained Mitch Hall, 30, who traveled down to Pass-A-Grille from Seminole with his brother Mike, 34, with their kiteboards.
Travis Miller, 32, of Tampa, said the surf was "sloppy" Wednesday, but seemed a lot cleaner on Tuesday.
"It's all right out there," he said."But there's a lot of erosion happening up on the beach. The shoreline is taking a beating" from the waves.
His friend Piers DeHann, 28, found the surfing delightful. He had been scheduled to fly home to London on Wednesday, but the flight was canceled because of the hurricane, he said.
“So I decided to come to the beach,” he said, grinning. For him, a day surfing was better than riding a transatlantic flight, no matter how sloppy the surf.
-- Craig Pittman
Resident doubts storm surge warnings
OZELLO -- Albert Yates built a fortress.
The 79-year-old retired builder imported Brazilian walnut -- “iron wood,” he said, so hard you can’t nail into it, only drill. From it he constructed his 13.5-foot high, Category 4 hurricane-rated citadel of a home, with pylons that go five feet into bedrock.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said, dismissing warnings of a dangerous storm surge from Hurricane Michael on Wednesday afternoon.
Yates built the house eight years ago at the tip of Sanddollar Point in Ozello, a small wetlands outpost along coastal Citrus County where new construction is flanked by leaning shacks, where pickup trucks rule and the Confederacy still survives -- at least judging by flags hung from a few houses.
Yates has roots there. His mother grew up on an island only accessible by boat, and then raised him. He spent 30 years in Tennessee before returning for retirement.
Since he built the house, Yates said the worst storm surge he’s seen was to his chest. Hurricane Hermine in 2016 was nothing, and he doesn’t think this storm will be, either.
When Michael’s eye makes landfall, Yates predicted the storms outer bands will dissipate quickly. As long as that happens before high tide, scheduled in nearby Crystal River at 6:14 p.m., the flooding won’t be so bad, he said.
“I kind of doubt it,” Yates said of the storm surge warnings.
-- Josh Solomon
“You waited too long...if you made the choice not to evacuate, please find a place to shelter, seek a place of refuge.”
Residents already wondering: Should I have left?
Even as the swells began to grow more angry on Panama City Beach, last-minute gawkers still flocked to the tourist hub, past the rows of kitschy miniature golf courses, deserted oyster restaurants and empty condo buildings.
Randy Simmons, 57, was enjoying his morning coffee on the deck of his condo overlooking the beach. He came to check on his property before retreating to another property he owns a couple miles inland. “I was going to stay here until it go to a category four,” Simmons said. “This is going to be a big mess.”
Simmons turn his left forearm over to reveal his name written in big black letters, just in case rescuers needed to identify him. “You just never what’s going to happen in the situations,” he said. “People do die.”
A couple hundreds yards down the sand, Jeff Moats was beginning to second guess himself. Originally from Arkansas, he decided to stay in his home on Panama City Beach. The reason: “My first hurricane. But I’m starting to wonder if I should have left.”
He walked on the beach with his friend, John Porter, 68, a Panhandle native who has ridden out many hurricanes. Port’s dog, Jake, bounded up and down the beach as water and foam crept up closer and closer, stopping only to relieve himself in the sea grass. “My dog doesn’t seem to mind,” said Porter, a tall man with a messy beard and a red “Make America Great” cap.
--David Ovalle, Miami Herald
'Pray the boat’s still here’
Douglas Hodgins filled sandbags on Wednesday in Linda Pedersen Park, between Weeki Wachee Gardens and Hernando Beach, with a deadpan sense of humor.
The 77-year-old and his wife, Linda Hodgins, 71, left Panama City, which is directly in the crosshairs of Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 storm and strengthening. They have a boat up there.
“I think ‘had’ would be the word,” said Douglas, holding the shovel while wearing a Vietnam War veterans hat. Linda held open the bags.
The vessel, their full-time home, is tied up in a marina.
“Not a good place to be up there,” he said.
The couple is riding out the storm with Douglas’s brother in Hernando Beach. High tide Wednesday afternoon, coupled with the 2-4 foot storm surge, could mean trouble for coastal residents.
What will they do when they get back to the Panhandle?
Douglas had the quip: “Pray the boat’s still there.”
-- Josh Solomon
Just some glum storm-chasers
As they sat atop a picnic table at Hudson Beach, Jakota Dowdy and Nicole Moore were, well, kind of glum.
The Hudson couple had come in search of exciting winds and water. Instead, they ended up flicking snacks to a colony of seagulls flitting along the rocks below them.
See, the two are casual storm-chasers.
“We’re all about the hurricanes,” said Dowdy, 32. “Everybody is scared of it, and we’re trying to find it.”
He’s done this often; his partner, less so.
“Every time there’s a storm, I’m out in it,” he said. “Everybody’s going inside. I’m going outside.”
“It kind of excites me,” he said. “I like the danger of it, I guess.”
But as the 35-year-old Moore put it, there’s been “nothing” today.
She and her partner will stick with the birds — for now.
-- Justin Trombly
It’s early Wednesday, and all is quiet on Pine Island and Pasco County
By 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, the road closed sign was overkill.
The narrow two-lane outlet to Pine Island on Hernando County’s coast was free from any flooding. But the seawater that flanked both sides of the road lapped at the base of the pavement, a reminder that a few hours ago the Gulf of Mexico had overtaken the road. And likely would again during high tide later in the afternoon.
Clouds, blue with a pink sheen from sunrise, hustled over the soils of Pine Island, which are heavy with sea salt from floods past. The homeowners, amateur flood experts that they are, all park their cars along the sides of the island’s squat bridge
“It’s the highest point,” one man said before climbing into his Jeep.
Meanwhile, Pasco County spokeswoman Tambrey Laine said the county hasn’t seen any areas having problems after the overnight surge. Water levels were much lesser than they had expected, she said, and officials will be waiting to see what happens with the next high tide this afternoon. That’ll “tell us a lot,” she said.
-- Josh Solomon, Justin Trombly
Only early puddles along the Anclote River
It was quiet Wednesday morning near the mouth of the Anclote River, the farthest point south under a storm surge warning.
Neighborhoods nearby showed signs of overnight rain and wind — an overturned trash can here, a downed branch there — but any flooding that may have come with the early morning high tide had left only puddles by mid-morning. The action remained that of a mundane Wednesday morning: short-shorted older men on walks, school buses blinking in the drizzle.
David McCrady, 61, rode his bike to Anclote River Park to check the water level. He lives down the street in a house a foot off the ground.
“Just wanted to make sure my place isn’t gonna be in the flooding,” he said.
Any overnight storm surge didn’t reach him, he said, and after seeing the water at what seemed to be a normal level, he wasn’t worried about this afternoon’s high tide either.
“Matter of fact,” he said casually, mounting his bike, “I’m gonna go home to have some breakfast right now.” And he rode off.
-- Jack Evans
St. Pete Beach residents eye high tide, street flooding
By Suhuana Hussain
A text message Tuesday sent Steve Hassen racing back to his home on W Maritana Drive.
When he got home at about 4 p.m., the water was already halfway up his driveway.
Hassen, 55, slowly navigated his own car, and then his wife’s car, through the shallow water and parked them on the driveway. Then he made sure to rinse off all the tires with fresh water.
"Idiots drive through the water all the time — they don’t know the salt water erodes your car," he said.
He’s lived here for three decades now, and says he knows how to deal with this kind of worrying weather.
Tuesday was a dry-run for what residents across Tampa Bay’s low-lying, flood-prone areas may have to deal with when Hurricane Michael strikes the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday afternoon.