Hurricane Michael: everything you need to know on the record-breaking storm | US news

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Hurricane Michael lashed the Carolinas on Thursday after it claimed at least six lives and tore a trail of carnage through Florida and Georgia. Here is what you need to know about one of the strongest storms ever to strike the United States.

It broke records

Michael, with sustained winds of 155mph (135 knots), is the first category 4 hurricane to make landfall on Florida’s Panhandle and the fourth strongest storm ever to strike the United States. Only three category 5 storms have made a US landfall: the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 (160 kts), Hurricane Camille (1969: 152 kts) and Hurricane Andrew (1992: 145 kts).

It came from nowhere

As recently as Sunday morning, Michael was a badly organised system of rain clouds “meandering off the east coast of the Yucatan peninsula”, according to the National Hurricane Centre. It powered up quickly into a tropical storm by Sunday night then sprinted north across the Gulf of Mexico, leaping from a category 2 to 4 hurricane in just hours on Tuesday night, a record-setting pace.

It was a late arrival

While cyclones can and do form any time during the six-month Atlantic hurricane season that runs from 1 June to 30 November, it is unusual for a late-season hurricane to pack such power, and even rarer for one to make landfall. Historically, the strongest storms have formed during the season’s peak summer months of August and September when ocean temperatures are warmer.

It was predicted

Michael is the 12th named storm of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season (storms are traditionally allocated a name when they reach the status of a tropical storm). Although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) announced in August it was lowering its expectation to a “below normal” season, it still predicted nine to 13 named storms, up to two of them category 3 or higher, by season’s end.

It’s going to cost

Hurricane Katrina (2005) and Hurricane Harvey (2017) share top billing as the most costly US storms, both weighing in at $125bn, the NHC says. It’s too soon to calculate Michael’s economic impact but the scale of devastation makes it certain to challenge for a top-five place, perhaps above Hurricane Sandy (2012: $65bn). AccuWeather predicts losses will exceed $30bn.

It’s heading for retirement

There will never be another Hurricane Michael. The National Hurricane Centre rotates storm names annually and adopts a boy-girl-boy-girl list of consecutive storm names in any given year. At the end of each season it removes and replaces the names of any particularly deadly or costly storms. Michael, and last month’s Florence, will be retired this year in the same way as Harvey, Irma and Maria were in 2017.

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