A catastrophic Category 5 hurricane is one of Mother Nature’s most powerful forces, but fortunately for coastal residents, it’s also a sight the Atlantic Basin rarely sees.
Since 1924, only 6% of hurricanes have strengthened into a Category 5, with even fewer hitting the United States.
Tropical cyclones are classified by wind strength on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, and when sustained winds reach at least 157 mph, the cyclone is classified as Category 5.
For these monstrous hurricanes to develop, water temperatures must be above 80 degrees and atmospheric conditions must be paramount for development.
Only four Category 5 hurricanes made landfall in the United States, and nearly all of them occurred in a two-week period from August 17 to September 2.
Hurricane names are the most notorious in weather history and will never again be used to identify a cyclone.
Hurricanes like Andrew, Camille and Michael all took advantage of optimal weather conditions and caused catastrophic damage that is still fresh in the minds of residents today.
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Labor Day Hurricane of 1935
The Labor Day hurricane remains the strongest storm to ever hit the United States.
A reanalysis of the hurricane by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that maximum sustained winds of 185 mph hit the Florida Keys on September 2, 1935.
The major hurricane was never given a name because the system occurred before the National Hurricane Center’s naming convention was established in 1950.
Category 5 was accused of killing over 600 people and completely destroying buildings, roads and other infrastructure.
Meteorologists say the storm’s compact size helped it strengthen quickly in the Florida Strait after hitting the Bahamas.
Without satellites and widespread observations, tracking the hurricane was difficult.
A hurricane warning was issued by the United States Weather Bureau hours before landfall, but unfortunately the message was too late for some to take precautions.
Damage was estimated at around $6 million (equivalent to around $130 million in 2022).
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1969 Hurricane Camille
Hurricane Camille is the second strongest hurricane to ever hit the United States.
The Category 5 storm had sustained winds of around 175 mph when it made landfall on the Mississippi coast on August 27, 1969.
Similar to other catastrophic hurricanes, its overall size was small and hurricane-force winds extended only 40 miles from the center.
Camille has been charged with the deaths of more than 250 people and caused $1.42 billion in damages (equivalent to more than $11.4 billion in 2022).
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1992 Hurricane Andrew
One of the most infamous Category 5 hurricanes to hit the United States occurred on August 24, 1992.
The storm earned its name when winds became sustained at 40 mph on August 17 while in the central Atlantic.
In its early stages, the cyclone struggled with shear and did not increase in intensity until it made its final approach to the Bahamas.
Similar to all other major US strikes, the system was smaller than the typical hurricane, and the 74 mph winds only extended 50 miles from the center.
Its small size also made it susceptible to rapid changes in strength, and satellite images showed the storm peaked while hitting southern Florida.
After the hurricane emerged off the west coast of the Florida peninsula, people ventured out of their homes and shelters into unrecognizable landscapes.
The storm has been blamed for more than five dozen deaths and caused $27 billion (equivalent to more than $57 billion in 2022).
Originally, Andrew was rated a Category 4 on landfall, but after years of reanalysis, the hurricane was upgraded to a Category 5 nearly a decade after making landfall.
Hurricane Michael 2018
Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle on October 10, 2008.
This is the last strike in a calendar year for a Category 5 hurricane.
The FOX Forecast Center says the combination of warm waters and perfect weather conditions in the Gulf of Mexico allowed the storm to quickly strengthen as it made landfall.
Hurricane-force winds only extended about 90 miles from the center, making it another relatively small hurricane.
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Being well organized, the storm brought sustained pre-hurricane winds well inland across the southeast.
The combination of rain, waves and winds caused damage estimated at $25.5 billion (equivalent to more than $30.0 billion in 2022).