All four Category Five U.S. hurricanes rapidly intensified before making landfall

Big storms offer lessons as hurricane season approaches
Updated: May. 21, 2019 at 10:28 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - As the 2019 hurricane season approaches, last year’s experience in the Florida panhandle provides a dramatic reminder about the unpredictability of these powerful storms.

Michael, only the fourth Category five hurricane in recorded U.S. history, was merely a tropical storm 50 hours before landfall over the Columbus Day weekend.

In fact, the National Hurricane Center points out that all four Cat 5 hurricanes intensified rapidly in the final two or three days before landfall.


Weeks ago, scientists at the National Hurricane Center upgraded Michael from a Category four to a five after conducting a post-storm analysis. Based on the the storm’s intensity at landfall, and other data, they increased the estimate of Michael’s winds at landfall by 5 mph to 160 mph. Michael’s eye moved ashore on October 10, 2018, near Mexico Beach and Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.

(National Hurricane Center)

One of the most destructive storms on record, Hurricane Andrew experienced periods of intensification and weakening before rapidly intensifying as it approached the Florida coast south of Miami in August of 1992. After briefly weakening over the Bahamas, Andrew had regained Category 4 status as it blasted its way across south Florida on August 24. The storm made another landfall in Louisiana, but is most known for the destruction it left behind along the Atlantic coast.

Andrew’s peak winds in south Florida were not directly measured due to destruction of the measuring instruments, according to the National Hurricane Center.

An automated station at Fowey Rocks reported 142 mph sustained winds with gusts to 169 mph (measured 144 feet above the ground), and higher values may have occurred after the station was damaged and stopped reporting.

The National Hurricane Center reported a peak gust of 164 mph (measured 130 feet above the ground), while a 177 mph gust was measured at a private home.

Andrew produced a 17 feet storm surge near the landfall point in Florida, while storm tides of at least 8 feet inundated portions of the Louisiana coast.

Andrew is responsible for 23 deaths in the United States and three more in the Bahamas.

(National Hurricane Center)

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of Hurricane Camille, a destructive storm that formed just west of the Cayman Islands on August 14, 1969.

It rapidly intensified and by the time it reached western Cuba the next day it was a Category 3. Camille tracked north-northwestward across the Gulf of Mexico and became a Category 5 hurricane on August 16, making landfall on August 17 first in Plaquemines Parish and then in Mississippi.

A minimum pressure of 26.84 inches was reported in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

The actual maximum sustained winds will never be known since the hurricane destroyed all the wind-recording instruments in the landfall area.

Camille produced a surge of 24.6 feet at Pass Christian, Mississippi, according to the NHC.

While it dropped an estimated 10 inches of rain along parts of the Gulf Coast, the storm produced its heaviest rains far inland, up to 31 inches in Virginia.

Camille caused 256 deaths, including 143 on the Gulf Coast and 113 in the Virginia floods. Three deaths were reported in Cuba.

(National Hurricane Center)

Before hurricanes got names, the first recorded Category five in the U.S. struck over the Labor Day Weekend in South Florida in 1935.

“No wind measurements are available from the core of this small, but vicious hurricane,” according to a NOAA website.

A pressure of 26.35 inches was measured at Long Key, Florida.

Winds and surge caused 408 deaths in the Florida Keys.

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