Scientists at NOAA’s National Hurricane Center announced on Friday that Hurricane Michael was a Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale when it made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida on Oct. 10, 2018. It was previously listed as a Category 4 hurricane.
The adjustment to the hurricane’s category came after a post-storm analysis of the devastating storm that hit the Florida Panhandle last year. Scientists now estimate that the wind intensity at landfall was 160 mph, not the previously estimated 155 mph. The additional 5 mph was enough to push it into the next category.
“It will look like a bomb or a tsunami hit the area,” AccuWeather Founder and President Dr. Joel Myers said before the hurricane hit.
The now-Category 5 hurricane had blasted through the Florida Panhandle, carving a path of destruction through the East Coast before tracking back into the Atlantic. Before the storm hit, Myers estimated there would be about $30 billion in damage from the storm. The last Category 5 hurricane to strike the mainland U.S. was Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which was also initially designated as a Category 4 and was later upgraded to a Category 5.
“When looking at a hurricane at real time, you don’t have time to look at every piece of information,” AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski said. “When doing a post analysis, you can look at damage. The engineers go in and can see how much damage was done and how much wind it takes.”
Prior to becoming a Category 5, Michael was already known as one of the most destructive and powerful storms in recorded history.
Michael had a minimum central pressure of 27.13 inches of mercury when it made landfall, making it the third-most intense U.S. landfalling hurricane behind Katrina and Andrew.
“The minimum central pressure is probably the most accurate way to measure the intensity of a hurricane,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.
Measuring the wind speed of a hurricane can often prove more difficult, as anemometers can be destroyed or blown away at wind speeds above 100 mph on land.
Some meteorologists stated back in October that they would not be surprised if it was later upgraded to a Category 5.
“Based on central pressure and looking at some of the damage photos and videos coming in, I would not be shocked if Michael is upgraded to a Category 5 hurricane after official review,” Sosnowski said a few days after Hurricane Michael hit.
But even with the damage at around $30 billion, the Category 5 storm didn’t come close to the financial losses of Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm at landfall, which had an economic impact of $190 billion.
Kottlowski points out that even though Michael’s damage was catastrophic, the financial cost shows that the Category 5 hurricane missed highly populated areas.
“Opportunities will be there for these monstrous storms to develop,” Kottlowski said. “If we can do anything, it’s to get people to realize that you have to prepare.”