Hurricane Michael: Storm surge catastrophic for Mexico Beach
When Hurricane Michael roared ashore on October 10, 2018, it pushed a massive and destructive storm surge to the coast. The peak storm surge, located along the right side of where the eyewall made landfall, hit the town of Mexico Beach, which suffered devastating storm surge damage.
Hurricane Michael brought catastrophic storm surge to the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend areas. One of the hardest hit locations was from Mexico Beach to Indian Pass where 9 to 14 feet of peak storm surge was observed. In addition, wave action caused even higher total water values and this resulted in waves destroying the second story of multiple buildings in Mexico Beach.
Michael’s storm tide, when combined with waves on top of the surge, brought a high water mark of 20.6′ above mean sea level to a storm tide sensor attached to the Mexico Beach Pier. The mobile sensor, installed just before the storm by the United States Geological Survey, measured a storm tide of 15.5′, so waves on top of the surge were about 5′ high.
Michael’s high water mark one of the six highest in 85 years of U.S. records
According to a database of high water marks of landfalling U.S. hurricanes from 1933 – 2017 compiled by Katie Peek of Western Carolina University, the peak high water marks of 20.6′ - 21.2′ in Mexico Beach would put Michael in fifth or sixth place for highest water levels ever recorded from a U.S. landfalling hurricane since 1933.
|Hurricane||High Water Mark|
|Katrina (Cat 3), 2005||34.11’ above MSL at Biloxi, MS|
|Camille (Cat 5), 1969||24.6’ above MSL at Pass Christian, MS|
|Carla (Cat 4), 1961||22’ above MSL at Calhoun County, TX|
|Opal (Cat 3), 1995||21.5’ above MSL at Mirimar Beach, FL|
|Michael (Cat 5), 2018||20.6′ - 21.2’ above MSL at Mexico Beach, FL|
|Irene (Cat 1), 2011||20.77’ above NAVD at Lido Beach, NY|
|Audrey (Cat 3), 1957||20.3’ above MSL at St. James Parrish, LA|
|Hugo (Cat 4), 1989||20.2’ above NGVD at Awendaw, SC|
|Isaac (Cat 1), 2012||19.7’ above NAVD at Harrison County, MS|
|Ike (Cat 2), 2008||19.4’ above NGVD at High Island, TX|
While preliminary peak storm surge was slightly less east of Indian Pass, values were still life-threatening and caused significant damage. In addition, numerous homes along the coast were destroyed or damaged as water slammed against the structures.
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Background Picture: Storm surge damage at Mexico Beach (Source: National Weather Service)