Hurricane Michael Live Updates: Category 4 Storm Makes Landfall in Florida

Hurricane Michael’s dramatic increase in strength as it approached Florida was due in part to its low barometric pressure, said Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist in the atmospheric science department at Colorado State University.

Low barometric pressure increases a storm’s intensity, and the barometric pressure within Hurricane Michael early Wednesday was just 925 millibars. There have only been a half dozen storms that struck the United States with lower barometric pressure, the most recent being Katrina, Andrew and Camille — and all six “were devastating storms,” Mr. Klotzbach said.

The rapid intensification of the storm, which means growing in wind speed by 35 miles per hour over a 24-hour period, came as a surprise, he noted — which means “There’s still stuff we don’t know about hurricanes.”

While prediction of storm track has grown increasingly accurate, the ability to predict rapid intensification has lagged somewhat, said Haiyan Jiang, an associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environment at Florida International University. “This storm is very special,” she said. “It has gone through three rapid intensifications” in its brief lifetime, despite pronounced wind shear in the region that might have been expected to weaken the storm.

“The shear was high, so nobody expected it was going to intensify this rapidly,” Dr. Jiang said.

Part of the explanation is warmer-than-average waters in the Gulf of Mexico, in some places by some 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or two degrees Celsius. “One to two degrees is a big deal,” she said.

Warmer sea surface temperatures, while subject to natural variation, are consistent with the effects of climate change.

Some 306 counties in the South — about 10 percent of all counties nationwide — were in states of emergency on Wednesday as Hurricane Michael threatened to ravage parts of the region and strain resources.

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