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It’s official: As of 11am ET Monday we have our seventh hurricane of the 2018 hurricane season. Although it just formed as a tropical storm on Sunday afternoon, Michael has quickly strengthened and has now reached hurricane status. Further strengthening is forecast over the next 48 hours ahead of Hurricane Michael’s expected landfall on the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday afternoon, as what the National Hurricane Center is predicting to be a “dangerous major hurricane.”

As of the 11am update, Michael packs top sustained wind speeds of 75 mph with gusts over 90 mph. The storm has moved further eastward than forecast, sparing Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula but lashing Cuba, which has been under a hurricane warning since 5am ET Monday.

A Hurricane Watch currently spans the Florida Gulf Coast from the Florida/Alabama border to the Suwannee River. Hurricane warnings are likely to be issued for this same area Monday afternoon.

Models remain pretty confident that Hurricane Michael will make landfall somewhere on the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday afternoon, before sweeping up the East Coast.

Image courtesy of the UW-Milwaukee Atmospheric Science Program.

However, there’s quite a bit of uncertainty about the strength of the storm at landfall. On Sunday afternoon, the storm was expected to be a weak a Category 1 hurricane at landfall. But overnight, hurricane models started predicting that the storm would take so little damage when passing between Cuba and Mexico that it’d strengthen to a major hurricane. Now, the official National Hurricane Center forecast agrees. The hurricane is forecast to make landfall as a Category 3 major hurricane with 120 mph top sustained winds.

While the worst of the winds and rain are going to be experienced by the Florida Gulf Coast, strong winds and rain are expected to sweep through the Southeast. With major airports Atlanta and Charlotte in the cone of uncertainty, we could see significant flight delays and cancellations Wednesday and Thursday.

As of 11:25am ET Monday morning, only Southwest as issued a travel waiver for Hurricane Michael:

  • Travel dates: October 6-9
  • Covered airports: Cancun (CUN) and Havana (HAV)
  • Travel dates: October 9-11
  • Covered airports: New Orleans (MSY); Panama City (ECP); Pensacola (PNS)
  • 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.

No waivers have been issued yet by Alaska, Allegiant, American Airlines, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit or United.

Protect Your Travels

Hurricane Michael serves as yet another reminder of the importance of booking trips 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 the 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.

Know before you go.

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