NOAA: Hurricane Michael Upgraded to Category 5 Storm, Fourth to Hit US

April 21, 2019 Updated: April 21, 2019

Hurricane Michael, which ravaged the Florida Panhandle last year, was upgraded to a Category 5—the strongest and rarest designation on the Saffir-Sampson Scale.

A monthslong analysis of the devastating October storm revealed that it packed 160 mph winds, making it a Category 5, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Michael now is the fourth-recorded Category 5 storm to hit the United States.

hurricane michael slams mexico beach florida
Hurricane Michael caused devastating effects in Mexico Beach, Florida, in 2018. (CNN)

“Category 5 winds were likely experienced over a very small area at and near the coast, and the change in estimated wind speeds is of little practical significance in terms of the impacts associated with the storm,” read a National Hurricane Center statement on April 19.

Originally, Michael was deemed a strong Category 4 and had 155 mph winds when it slammed Florida on Oct. 10. It did $25 billion in damage and killed 16 people.

“Along with wind speed, atmospheric pressure is a measure of storm intensity. In general, the lower a storm’s central pressure, the higher the winds. Michael’s central pressure of 919 millibars (mb) at landfall is the third lowest on record for a landfalling U. S. hurricane since reliable records began in 1900, trailing only the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 (892 mb) and Hurricane Camille of 1969 (900 mb),” said NOAA.

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump board Air Force One as they depart Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, on their way to visit areas affected by Hurricane Michael in Florida and Georgia on Oct. 15, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The Labor Day Hurricane in 1935, Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and Hurricane Camille in 1969 are the three other Category 5 hurricanes to make landfall in the United States. Andrew hit South Florida, Camille hit Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, and the Labor Day Hurricane slammed the Florida Keys.

The storm, namely, made landfall near Mexico Beach and Tyndall Air Force Base, and Mexico Beach was mostly destroyed in the storm. NPR noted that six months later, some businesses have been able to reopen, but the area hasn’t fully recovered and likely won’t do so for months or years as three-quarters of the homes in the area were destroyed by Michael.

“In Mexico Beach, 1,584 buildings out of 1,692 in the town were reported damaged, with 809 of those reported destroyed. While exact numbers are not available from the Tyndall AFB, every building was reported damaged with many destroyed,” said the full report (pdf) from the agency.

Verizon mobile truck in front of the Panama City Police Department
A Verizon mobile cell truck in front of the Panama City Police Department, providing cell service for emergency first responders. (Verizon.com)

NOAA’s report also stated that hurricane’s storm surge, along parts of the Panhandle was between 9 and 14 feet above normal. The highest levels were experienced in Mexico Beach.

Michael also produced about 16 tornadoes, but they did only minor damage.

An excavator tears down a damaged home from Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., on Jan. 25, 2019. Weather forecasters have posthumously upgraded last fall’s Hurricane Michael from a Category 4 storm to a Category 5. (David Goldman/AP Photo, File)

“My thought is simply that most of us thought we were dealing with a (Category) 5 anyway,” said Al Cathey, mayor of Mexico Beach, reported The Associated Press. “You still ride through our city and it’s depressing,” Cathey added.

“We still don’t have a pretty face. It’s a mess,” he said. “But we are working diligently at getting ourselves cleaned up and being proactive and helping people get their feet back under them.”

According to The Weather Channel, the names of both Florence, which hit North and South Carolina weeks before Michael, and Michael have been retired from future use.

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