NOAA’s National Hurricane Center has determined that Hurricane Michael, which pounded the Florida Panhandle last October, made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane, with estimated top sustained winds of 160 mph (140 knots), after initially being ranked as a Category 4 storm (155 mph).
The detailed post-storm analysis was based on “a review of the available aircraft winds, surface winds, surface pressures, satellite intensity estimates and Doppler radar velocities – including data and analyses that were not available in real time,” according to NOAA.
Hurricane Michael became a tropical depressions on Oct. 7, 2018, and then deepend rapidly over the western Caribbean Sea, becoming a hurricane just off the western edge of Cuba the following day.
On Oct. 9, the storm reached the status of a dangerous Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale as it neared the Florida Panhandle. Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Fla., the next day, with maximum winds reportedly estimated at 155 mph — a high-end Category 4 hurricane.
However, the just-released Tropical Cyclone Report, initially delayed by the 35-day federal government shutdown, according to NOAA, has upgraded Hurricane Michael to a Category 5 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph.
The annual reanalysis [laces Michael in the rarefied pantheon of Atlantic hurricanes, along with the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, Camille in 1969, and Andrew in 1992, among landfalling Category 5 storms in the U.S.
The central pressure of Hurricane Michael at landfall (27.14 inches/919 millibars) on Oct. 10, 2018, was even lower than Andrew’s, which struck South Florida in Aug. 1992. The only more intense landfalling storms to hit the U.S. were the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 (892 millibars) and Camillie in 1969 (900 millibars). Reliable data goes back to 1900.
Hurricane Michael was the most powerful hurricane to ever strike the Florida Panhandle, and the fourth strongest hurricane to make landfall in the United States, based on wind speed.
The devastation caused by Hurricane Michael’s winds and storm surge resulted in 16 deaths and about $25 billion in damage in the United States, according to NOAA.