We have another month and a half to go before we are really out of the woods this hurricane season. Remember Hurricane Sandy happened at the end of October and Hurricane Mitch was in November. There is reason to believe that the seasons are stretching out more and starting earlier and ending later.
Weather.com has put together a list of the ten most intense hurricanes in history. This list is not about the storms that killed the most people or did the most damage. It is all about intensity, power and wind speeds.
Here is their list.
1. Hurricane Wilma (2005):
The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season had already been devastating and mind-blowing enough when Wilma – the first “W” storm name ever used in the Atlantic basin – suddenly became the most intense Atlantic hurricane on record.
When Tropical Depression 24 formed on Oct. 15, expectations were high. “In fact, the GFDL [hurricane model] makes this cyclone a very intense hurricane over the northwestern Caribbean between Cuba and the Cayman Islands,” wrote Dr. Lixion Avila in the very first official National Hurricane Center technical discussion on the depression that would become Wilma.
It took several days for the system to become Hurricane Wilma over the northwest Caribbean, but not long after it did, an explosive and unprecedented period of strengthening occurred. The pressure plummeted from 980 millibars (28.94 inches) at 7 a.m. EDT on Oct. 18 to the Atlantic basin record of 882 millibars (26.05 inches) just 24 hours later, a drop of 98 millibars. Much of that breathtaking pressure fall occurred in the second half of those 24 hours. Wilma broke the records for fastest six-hour, 12-hour and 24-hour pressure drops ever recorded in an Atlantic basin tropical cyclone.
This spectacular turn of events took Wilma from a tropical storm on the morning of the 18th to a 175-mph Category 5 hurricane the following morning. As this happened, the eye contracted to an unheard-of 2 miles in diameter, the smallest known eye of an Atlantic basin hurricane.
Wilma weakened slightly on its way to the Yucatan Peninsula, but as a Category 4 storm it caused severe damage to the resort areas in and around Cancún. The slow-moving storm also dropped more than 60 inches of rain on nearby Isla Mujeres.
Later in its life, Wilma raked eastward across South Florida, causing an estimated $21 billion in damage .
2. Hurricane Gilbert (1988):
The hurricane that knocked 1935’s Labor Day storm off its perch on this list came during what had been a quiet 1988 hurricane season; there were no hurricanes until Debby and Florence in early September, both of which were brief Category 1 storms.
Gilbert came to life as a depression east of the Lesser Antilles on Sept. 8. Two days later, it became a hurricane over the eastern Caribbean, going on to rip across Jamaica as a Category 3 system. Forty-nine people died there and damage reached $4 billion.
The land interaction didn’t take the wind out of Gilbert’s sails. Once it had cleared the island, Gilbert underwent extremely rapid intensification, going from 952 millibars (28.11 inches) to a then-record 888 millibars (26.22 inches) in just 18 hours on Sept. 13. Accordingly, winds skyrocketed from 130 mph to 185 mph.
Unfortunately, all this occurred just as Gilbert was barreling toward the northern Yucatan Peninsula. Gilbert only surrendered a pinch of its strength before slamming into Cozumel, Mexico, on Sept. 14. The landfall pressure of 900 millibars (26.58 inches) is second only to the Labor Day hurricane among Western Hemisphere storms.
The result: 35,000 people lost their homes and 83 ships sank, along with a storm surge that penetrated some 3 miles inland in the Cancún-Cozumel area.
Gilbert was not finished, though; only somewhat enfeebled by passage over the Yucatan, it rolled on toward Monterrey as a Category 3 storm, unleashing monster floods that took at least half the 202 lives lost in Mexico to this storm.
3. Labor Day Hurricane (1935):
The Labor Day Hurricane is the only hurricane to make landfall in the Western Hemisphere with a measured pressure below 900 millibars.
Late on Sept. 2, as the hurricane approached the Florida Keys, the central pressure bottomed out at 892 millibars (26.35 inches) as measured at Long Key, Fla.
This hurricane, like 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, was extremely compact. Nonetheless, its narrow path through the Keys (centering on Islamorada) inflicted total devastation. Some 408 people died, many of them veterans working on the construction of U.S. Highway 1 through the Keys. Existing rail and road links across the Keys were destroyed.
For 53 years, the Labor Day Hurricane stood as the most powerful hurricane on record in the Western Hemisphere – until the next hurricane on our list.
4. Hurricane Rita (2005):
Less than a month after Katrina, Hurricane Rita went even lower on the barometer on its path through a similar region of the Gulf of Mexico.
Late on Sept. 21, Rita’s central pressure bottomed out at 895 millibars (26.43 inches) over the central Gulf of Mexico, 400 miles south-southeast of New Orleans. Winds were estimated at 180 mph at the time.
As Katrina did, Rita weakened to a Category 3 storm before making landfall early Sept. 24 over far southwest Louisiana. Still, a devastating storm surge destroyed much of Cameron Parish.
5. Hurricane Allen (1980):
Hurricane Allen may well be the most tenacious of the hurricanes on this list. Like Ivan (see No. 10), it was a Category 5 hurricane three separate times during its lifetime.
Its first such stint was over the eastern Caribbean Sea, where it bottomed out at 911 millibars (26.90 inches) on Aug. 4 about halfway between Puerto Rico and the northern coast of Venezuela. During this phase of its life, Allen took at least 220 lives in Haiti due to high winds and flooding.
Its second stint as a Category 5 came as it passed through the northwest Caribbean, the Yucatan Strait and into the southeast Gulf of Mexico. As Allen crossed the Yucatan Strait just 50 miles northeast of Cancún, Mexico, it reached its minimum central pressure of 899 millibars (26.55 inches) on Aug. 7. Sustained winds were estimated at 190 mph at that time, tying Camille for the most powerful winds of any known Atlantic hurricane.
Despite passing so close to the Yucatan Peninsula, there was little damage there. Cancún had only been founded in 1970, so the region was not nearly as highly developed as it is today.
Allen briefly weakened to a Category 4 before re-strengthening a third time, bottoming out at 909 millibars (26.84 inches) over the northwestern Gulf of Mexico, about 24 hours before making landfall near Brownsville, Texas, on Aug. 10. This reading alone would have been enough to put Allen in the top ten, but Allen’s stint near the Yucatan ranks it the fifth most powerful Atlantic hurricane on record.
Allen caused $300 million in damage and two direct deaths in South Texas, but the most potent winds and surge from Allen landed in the sparsely populated region between Brownsville and Corpus Christi.
6. Hurricane Katrina (2005):
We all remember Hurricane Katrina. It unleashed unforgettable devastation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and, by way of levee breaches, New Orleans.
Meteorologically, you may not recall that Katrina was the first of three super powerful hurricanes with exceptionally low pressures in that record-shattering 2005 hurricane season.
An NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft, flying a reconnaissance mission through Katrina, found a central pressure of 902 millibars (26.64 inches) at 1:55 p.m. EDT and again at 3:23 p.m. EDT on Aug. 28. This was the first time such a low pressure had been seen in an Atlantic basin hurricane since 1988. At this time, Katrina was over the Gulf of Mexico, about 270 miles south-southeast of New Orleans.
The reading was the culmination of a rapid drop in pressure from 945 millibars (27.91 inches) at 4 p.m. on Aug. 27 to 907 millbars (26.78 inches) at 10 a.m. on Aug. 28, accompanied by a drastic increase in winds from 115 mph to 175 mph in the same time frame.
While Katrina’s winds weakened before landfall, its very large field of high-end hurricane-force winds during its time over the Gulf were a key factor in the record 27.8-foot storm surge that inundated the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
7. (Tie) Hurricane Dean (2007):
Not only did Hurricane Dean reach a minimum central pressure of 905 millibars (26.72 inches), it did so just as it made landfall on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on Aug. 21, 2007.
Amazingly, this Category 5 landfall did not result in any deaths. Aside from the coastal city of Chetumal, most of the landfall zone was sparsely populated, and those people who were in danger took appropriate protective measures.
Unfortunately, weaker parts of Dean’s trek were not as harmless; 14 people died in Haiti and 12 in Mexico – the latter during Dean’s second, weaker landfall in the Mexican state of Veracruz, on the western shores of the Gulf of Mexico.
7. (Tie) Hurricane Mitch (1998):
Mitch’s central pressure plunged to 905 millibars (26.72 inches) on the afternoon of Oct. 26 as it hovered over the Caribbean Sea north of Honduras.
Unfortunately, Mitch was eventually shoved south into Central America, unleashing almost unimaginable amounts of rainfall. Some places may have seen more than 50 inches of rain, though the damage from mudslides and flash floods was so extensive that many rain gauges were washed away.
The human toll will never be precisely known, but it was surely horrifying. More than 10,000 people died in Central America, most of them in Honduras and Nicaragua, making Mitch the deadliest Atlantic hurricane of the 20th century.
The economic toll was also extremely harsh; the $3.8 billion of damage in Honduras amounted to 70 percent of that country’s annual gross domestic product.
7. (Tie) Hurricane Camille (1969):
Hurricane Camille bottomed out at a central pressure of 905 millibars (26.72 inches) while moving north-northwest over the central Gulf of Mexico.
It held on to much of its intensity, making landfall on the night of Aug. 17-18 with winds estimated at 190 mph and a central pressure of 909 millibars (26.84 inches) – the second-strongest landfalling hurricane by pressure in U.S. history.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast was devastated by a storm surge of up to 24.6 feet, contributing to a death toll of 143 along the Gulf Coast. Another 113 died in Virginia due to flash flooding and mudslides.
10. Hurricane Ivan (2004):
It was one of the memorable “Big Four” hurricanes of the 2004 season. It bottomed out at 910 millibars twice – once on the evening of Sept. 11 while it was between Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, and again on the afternoon of Sept. 13 near the western tip of Cuba. At both times it was a Category 5 storm.
Despite slight weakening to Category 3 status, Ivan was still a monster storm when it reached the central Gulf Coast of the U.S., bringing 10 to 15 feet of storm surge, winds estimated as high as 120 miles per hour, and 117 tornadoes. Ivan claimed 92 lives in eight countries and caused some $14 billion in damage in the U.S. alone.