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In less than three days, a cluster of storms has exploded into one of the strongest hurricanes on record. Now, the extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane is just hours away from landfall on the Florida Panhandle after undergoing rapid intensification overnight Tuesday.

As of an intermediate 11:30am ET National Hurricane Center advisory, the hurricane packs 150mph top sustained winds. The storm’s minimum pressure is currently 923 millibars. To put that in historical context, if the storm were to make landfall at its current intensity, it’d be the fourth-strongest storm to make landfall on the continental US in 72 years — behind some of the most infamous hurricanes in the record books: 1969’s Hurricane Camille (909 millibars), 2005’s Hurricane Katrina (920 millibars) and 1992’s Hurricane Andrew (922 millibars).

Infrared satellite imagery from Tuesday night shows the storm’s incredible intensification:

While the NHC warns that the Category 4 hurricane “is likely to produce potentially catastrophic wind damage,” Hurricane Michael’s most destructive force is likely to be its life-threatening storm surge. The shaping of the Florida coast means water is being funneled into the Big Bend of Florida. The worst storm surge is expected between Tyndall Air Force Base and Keaton Beach, where 9 to 14 feet of flooding is expected.

Directly in the path of the storm, Apalachicola was recorded experiencing a 7+ foot storm surge at 12:00pm ET, before the core of Hurricane Michael arrives later Wednesday afternoon:

While the main flooding threat from Hurricane Michael is going to be from storm surge, there’s also potential for damaging flash flooding from the powerful hurricane’s rain. A total of 6-10 inches of rain are expected across much of the Southeast. Unfortunately, due to the hurricane’s quick forward momentum, some of the areas hard hit by Hurricane Florence are expected to get another round of 4-6 inches of rain on top of already-saturated ground.

Flight Cancellations

Although the main disruption to flights will come later this week, hundreds of flights have already been cancelled ahead of Hurricane Michael. FlightAware’s cancellation tracker counts 280 flights that have been cancelled so far Wednesday and another 50 on Thursday. Here’s the total number of cancellations for Tuesday-Thursday for airports in the path of the storm:

  • Atlanta (ATL): 90 cancellations
  • Pensacola, Florida (PNS): 70 cancellations
  • Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS): 56 cancellations
  • Panama City, Florida (ECP): 54 cancellations
  • Tallahassee, Florida (TLH): 51 cancellations

Airport Closures

There are a number of closures occurring in anticipation of the storm’s arrival — including beaches, schools and universities. There are four airports primarily in the crosshairs of Hurricane Michael:

Airline Change Fee Waivers

Due to the storm’s quick movement — and the location of major airports along the predicted path — widespread travel disruptions are possible for Wednesday and Thursday. Thankfully, many airlines have waivers to allow travelers the chance to rebook out of the path of the storm. The following 23 airports are covered by at least one of these waivers:

As of 10:00m ET, the following airlines have issued waivers for Hurricane Michael:

In This Post

Allegiant

  • Allegiant’s website warns its flyers that “based on forecasted weather conditions, our scheduled service may be disrupted (flights may be delayed, diverted, and / or cancelled) to and from the following cities on the dates indicated below.” At this time, it doesn’t seem that Allegiant is allowing free changes.
  • Travel dates: October 9-12
  • Covered airports: Destin, FL (VPS); Gulfport, MS (GPT); Jacksonville, FL (JAX); Myrtle Beach, SC (MYR); New Orleans, LA (MSY); Savannah, GA (SAV)
  • Travel dates listed below may be disrupted due to the weather conditions.  Please continue to monitor this page for updates regarding your flight (s). Customers may also call Allegiant Customer Care at 702-505-8888 at any time 24 hours per day, seven days a week for assistance.

American

  • Travel dates: October 9-11
  • Covered airports: Augusta, Georgia (AGS); Destin / Fort Walton Beach, Florida (VPS); Charleston, South Carolina (CHS); Columbia, South Carolina (CAE); Florence, South Carolina (FLO); Hilton Head, South Carolina (HHH); Mobile, Alabama (MOB); Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (MYR); Panama City, Florida (ECP); Pensacola, Florida (PNS); Savannah, Georgia (SAV); Tallahassee, Florida (TLH)
  • Must have purchased ticket by: October 8
  • Rebooked travel must occur between October 8-14
  • Passengers also have the option to “delay your trip.” If changes are made by October 14, AA will allow you change your flights to/from the affected area for up to 1 year beyond original ticketing. Change fees will be waived, but a difference in fare will be charged if applicable.
  • Rebook in the same cabin or pay the difference. No changes in origin or destination are allowed.
  • Avoid the phone queue. Changes available on both AA’s website and in the AA app.

Delta

  • Travel dates: October 9-11
  • Covered airports: Albany, GA (ABY); Augusta, GA (AGS); Dothan, AL (DHN); Fort Walton Beach, FL (VPS); Mobile, AL (MOB); Panama City, FL (ECP); Pensacola, FL (PNS); Tallahassee, FL (TLH); Valdosta, GA (VLD)
  • Tickets must have been purchased by: October 9
  • Tickets must be reissued by: October 14
  • Rebooked travel must begin no later than: October 14
  • Changes to origins and destinations may result in an increase in fare. Any difference in fare between your original ticket and the new ticket will be collected at the time of booking.
  • When rescheduled travel occurs beyond October 13, the change fee will be waived. However, a difference in fare may apply. Final travel must be completed by end of ticket validity, one year from date of original issue.
  • If travel is not able to be rescheduled within these guidelines, customers may cancel their reservation and apply any unused value of the ticket toward the purchase of a new ticket for a period of one year from the original ticket issuance. Applicable change fee and fare difference will apply for new travel dates.

Frontier

  • Travel dates: October 9-11
  • Covered airports: Pensacola, FL (PNS); Atlanta, GA (ATL); Birmingham, AL (BHM); Tampa, FL (TPA)
  • Customers who are ticketed to travel between October 9 and October 11, who purchased tickets on or before October 8, may make one itinerary change – rules/restrictions regarding standard change fees, advance purchase, day or time applications, blackouts, and minimum or maximum stay requirements will be waived.
  • Travel must be completed no later than October 31. Origin and destination cities may be changed. Customers whose flights are cancelled may request a refund.

JetBlue

  • Travel dates: October 11-12
  • Covered airports: Atlanta (ATL); Charleston, SC (CHS); Jacksonville, FL (JAX); Savannah/Hilton Head, GA (SAV)
  • Travel dates: October 10
  • Covered airports: Tampa (TPA)
  • Customers may rebook their flights for travel through October 16
  • Original travel must have been booked on or before October 9
  • Customers with cancelled flights may also opt for a refund to the original form of payment
  • Make the change online in the ‘Manage Flights’ section of jetblue.com or by calling 1-800-JETBLUE (538-2583) prior to the departure time of their originally scheduled flight

Southwest

  • Cancun (CUN) and Havana (HAV) — Travel dates: October 6-9
  • Tampa (TPA) — Travel dates: October 8-10
  • Atlanta (ATL) — Travel dates: October 8-12
  • New Orleans (MSY) — Travel dates: October 9-11
  • Charleston (CHS); Norfolk (ORF); Panama City (ECP); Pensacola (PNS); Raleigh-Durham (RDU) — Travel dates: October 9-14
  • Customers who are holding reservations to/from/through the cities listed above on the corresponding dates, may rebook in the original class of service or travel standby (within 14 days of their original date of travel between the original city-pairs and in accordance with Southwest’s accommodation procedures) without paying any additional charge.
  • Customers who purchased their itinerary via Southwest.com or our mobile app are eligible to reschedule their travel plans online or from their mobile device. Customers who did not purchase a ticket via Southwest.com can call 1-800-435-9792 to speak with a Customer Representative.

United

  • Travel dates: October 9-11
  • Covered airports: Atlanta, GA (ATL)​; Charleston, SC (CHS)​; Columbia, SC (CAE)​; Ft. Walton Beach, FL (VPS)​; Greenville-Spartanburg, SC (GSP)​; Mobile, AL (MOB); Myrtle Beach, SC (MYR)​; Panama City, FL (ECP)​; Pensacola, FL (PNS)​; Savannah, GA (SAV)​
  • The change fee and any difference in fare will be waived for new United flights departing between October 8, and October 18, as long as travel is rescheduled in the originally ticketed cabin (any fare class) and between the same cities as originally ticketed.
  • For wholly rescheduled travel departing after October 18, or for a change in departure or destination city, the change fee will be waived, but a difference in fare may apply. Rescheduled travel must be completed within one year from the date when the ticket was issued.

No waivers from: Alaska, Spirit

Protect Your Travels

Hurricane Michael is another reminder to book flights with a card that offers solid trip delay and cancellation insurance. When I got stuck in Japan for four extra days due to a typhoon, I was very grateful for the Citi Prestige’s trip delay protection, which reimbursed $1,000 of our expenses.

Although Citi Prestige used to be my go-to for booking flights, a recent devaluation to the card’s travel benefits knocked it out of its top spot. Currently, I’m using my Chase Sapphire Reserve to book my flights going forward. Other top choices are the Chase Sapphire Preferred CardCiti / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard and the Citi Premier Card.

Featured image courtesy of NOAA.

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