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Hurricane Michael officially made landfall around 2pm ET on the Florida Gulf Coast just southeast of Panama City, FL. As of the National Hurricane Center advisory just before landfall, the hurricane packed top sustained winds of 155mph and had a central pressure of 919 millibars.

This landfall will go down in the record books as the strongest hurricane — measured by both wind speed and pressure — to make landfall on the contiguous US since 1969 when the Hurricane Camille slammed into Mississippi, killing 259 and causing $1.43 billion (inflation-adjusted) in damages.

Hurricane Michael is likely to be the third straight M-named hurricane to be retired after 2016’s Hurricane Matthew and 2017’s Hurricane Maria.

The incredible power of the storm is pummeling the Florida coast with a lot more than just winds and rain. The storm surge was predicted to be between 9-14 feet at the worst. And the Apalachicola, FL tide gauge that we’ve been monitoring the past few days has spiked up to 8.5 feet of storm surge:

Six airports in the Florida Panhandle announced closures ahead of the storm. Currently, 11 airfields have been shut down — including Albany (ABY) and Valdosta (VLD) in Georgia and Dothan Regional Airport (DHN) in Alabama.

Airfields closed due to Hurricane Michael, effective 1:53pm ET Wednesday. Image generated via Great Circle Mapper.

As the hurricane quickly sweeps through the Southeast, we will likely see additional small airport closures as well as delays and cancellations at larger airports. Delta’s Atlanta (ATL) and American Airlines’ Charlotte (CLT) are going to avoid direct hits by Hurricane Michael. Current wind speed probabilities put less than a 30% chance of tropical storm force winds at either airport. However, both are likely to suffer delays and cancellations as conditions worsen.

FlightAware’s cancellation tracker counts 298 flights that have been cancelled so far Wednesday with another 126 cancelled for Thursday and 26 for Friday. Here’s the total number of cancellations for Tuesday-Friday for airports in the path of the storm:

  • Charlotte (CLT): 139 cancellations
  • Atlanta (ATL): 96 cancellations
  • Pensacola (PNS): 70 cancellations
  • Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS): 56 cancellations
  • Panama City (ECP): 54 cancellations
  • Tallahassee (TLH): 53 cancellations
  • Charleston, SC (CHS): 33 cancellations

Between these airport closures and airlines wanting to stay far from the core of the historic hurricane, there’s quite a gap in the airspace around Hurricane Michael:

Having to go around such a massive storm is requiring some airlines to take a substantially longer route. For example, American Airlines isn’t getting anywhere close to the core of the storm. Meanwhile, Spirit is cutting it a lot closer and Southwest is taking the shortest route going over the core of the hurricane:

While most airlines are giving the hurricane a wide berth and many airfields closed in the path of the storm, airlines are still operating in and out of Mobile (MOB) — and, of course, you know how Delta loves to fly in and around hurricanes. A SkyWest-operated Delta Connection flight landed in Mobile (MOB) just after 11am CT on a flight in from Atlanta (ATL):

Shortly after, the flight turned and flew back to Atlanta (ATL), taking off shortly before 12pm CT in light winds. Although earlier flights into Mobile had diverted — perhaps emboldened by Delta’s success — United (ExpressJet) and American (Mesa) are also now operating flights into the outskirts of Hurricane Michael.

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.

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