Hurricane Michael Was a Category 5 at Landfall, Only the Fourth in U.S. Records, National Hurricane Center Says

Jonathan Erdman
Published: April 19, 2019

Hurricane Michael made an extremely rare Category 5 U.S. landfall last October in the Florida Panhandle, a post-storm analysis has determined.

Meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center found Michael's maximum sustained winds at landfall near Mexico Beach and Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, were 160 mph, just above the 157 mph threshold to be classified as a Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale in a just-released final report.

Infrared satellite loop of Category 5 Hurricane Michael making landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, on October 10, 2018.
(NOAA)

Michael became only the fourth Category 5 U.S. hurricane landfall on record, and the first since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which was also upgraded to Category 5 status well after it slammed South Florida.

(IN DEPTH: Michael Upgraded to Cat. 5)

Camille in 1969 along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the Florida Keys Labor Day Hurricane in 1935 were the only other U.S. Category 5 landfalls on record.

The four hurricanes that made landfall in the U.S. at Category 5 intensity. (Note: Both Andrew and the Labor Day 1935 hurricanes made second landfalls in Louisiana and Apalachee Bay, respectively, at lower intensity.)

The NHC bumped up landfall winds based on an extensive analysis of reconnaissance aircraft winds, surface winds, surface pressure, Doppler winds and estimates of intensity from satellite imagery.

As with most all hurricanes, the most intense winds likely occurred in a tiny area near the coast at landfall.

NHC noted, "This change in the estimated wind speed is of little practical significance in terms of the impacts associated with the storm there."

Despite that, Michael's landfall winds were tied with the San Felipe 1928 hurricane - when it struck Puerto Rico - as the fourth highest of any U.S. state or territorial landfall since 1900. Michael was the most intense Florida Panhandle landfall on record and was the latest-in-season Category 5 U.S. landfall on record, according to the NHC.

Michael was responsible for an estimated $25 billion in damage.

The names of both Michael and 2018's Hurricane Florence have been retired from future use, due to the magnitude of their destruction.


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