Maggie and Mike McKinney, their pets and a friend sought refuge in a bathroom of their home in Florida’s Panhandle on Oct. 10, 2018, with three shot glasses and a bottle of Jameson Irish whiskey.
They fled there when Hurricane Michael’s fiercest winds arrived and Maggie could feel their house and central brick fireplace swaying. The storm pummeled their century-old home in Econfina, north of Panama City, for about three hours, ripping away pieces of roof and allowing rain to pour in.
When it was over, the home was still standing. The Jameson bottle was almost empty.
They looked out the front door and Maggie spoke three words: “Oh, my God.”
Every tree was twisted, mangled or ripped from the ground. “The smell of destruction” — a stench she’ll never forget — hit them from the crushed leaves and bark, tree sap and overturned earth.
Lifelong Floridians, the McKinneys had ridden out many hurricanes over 46 years of marriage, but this one was more intense than anything they’d ever seen and far worse than they expected 30 miles inland.
Michael had slammed into the coast between Tyndall Air Force Base and Mexico Beach as a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 160 mph. Just 24 hours earlier, the hurricane’s sustained winds had been 110 mph, but the intensity exploded when warm waters and conditions in the Gulf of Mexico handed Michael the equivalent of a high-octane energy drink.
Such sudden spikes have been the hallmark of history’s most fearsome hurricanes, Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center, told USA TODAY. Out of the nine hurricanes with winds of 150 mph or greater that struck the U.S. mainland over 103 years, all but one saw the explosion of force and power known as rapid intensification.
With the days ticking down to the start of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season on June 1, it’s worth noting that nearly half of those most powerful storms — Charley, Laura, Ida, and Michael — made landfall in the U.S. just in the last 18 years. As rising global temperatures continue heating up the Gulf and other tropical waters, it’s a phenomenon some experts expect to see more often.
The Yucatan Times