BILLINGS – The country awoke Thursday to the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. As daylight illuminated the scene, the extent of the damages began to unfold.
Michael hit the Florida coast with sustained winds of 155 mph, or two miles an hour short of meeting the criteria for a category five hurricane, which is the highest category.
However as the damage shows, that two miles per hour is an arbitrary benchmark, and though this storm will go into the official record books as something less than the top of the scale, the damage done is still catastrophic.
In the case of this storm, the damage was done mostly by wind and rapid rising storm surge, which creates somewhat of a juxtaposition to the aftermath of September’s Hurricane Florence, which stalled on the coastline of North Carolina and dumped torrential rain in the same spot for days.
Michael portrays a different facet of a hurricane’s potential for devastation and it is something that the Florida Panhandle will be cleaning up after for weeks and months to come.
But they will not be alone. Many will lend helping hands, and some will come from Montana.
A spokesman for the Montana chapter of the Red Cross, Matt Ochsner, told MTN News that the Regional Disaster Officer for Montana and Idaho, Colleen Tone, has already been dispatched to Tallahassee where she will head the operation of a disaster shelter.
Tone has been deployed 15 times across the country in response to disasters like hurricanes and wildfires.
Ochsner also said that more Montana Red Cross staff and volunteers are on standby and will be deployed in the coming days.
Dave Pauli from the American Humane Society says that he has been placed on “high standby” and expects to be sent to that part of the country in the immediate future. Pauli said the work to be done will differ from the situation that followed Florence because the nature of the damage is so different.
He says that wind damage creates debris fields that are very dangerous to animals and that he expects some post-storm evacuations to be issued as crews clean up debris, which could lead to more animals being left behind.
Ultimately, Pauli says that they will do whatever specific communities need.
A spokesman for NorthWestern Energy, Butch Larcombe, said that even though they have been asked to provide post-disaster aid in the form of equipment or line crews for past disasters like Hurricane Sandy, at this point no aid has been requested on their end.
We can remember a similar situation from 2017 when Hurricane Harvey stalled over Texas, leading to massive rainfall and flooding, while Maria quickly carved a path through the Carribean.
There is a somewhat eerie similarity as Maria, last year’s “M” hurricane (tropical storms are named beginning with “A” names every year regardless of how many storms are strong enough to be named in a given year) also made landfall with sustained winds of 155 mph.
Michael is the fourth strongest storm to ever make landfall on the continental United States. The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, Hurricane Andrew, which ripped through Miami in 1992, and Hurricane Camille are the only hurricanes to ever hit the continental United States with higher sustained winds.
If you want to join in Montana’s effort to help those affected by Hurricane Michael the best way to do so is to donate to the red cross, to contribute $10, you can simply text the word “REDCROSS” to 90999.