Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Last "Major" Hurricane To Hit US Made Landfall Eight Years Ago

With the one year mark of Sandy looming across the region next week, another milestone has come and gone of us here in the US. Today marks eight years since the last major hurricane (Category 3 or higher on Saffir) made landfall on American soil.

Hurricane Wilma struck South Florida back in 2005 with 120 mile per hour winds, not anywhere near its earlier intensity and earlier strength while in the Caribbean but still a formidable storm. It contributed to the deaths of 35 individuals and produced eleven tornadoes across Florida as it raced through the state.

Wilma is the most intense hurricane on record in the Atlantic basin, with a lowest recorded pressure of 882 millibars set while in the western parts of the Caribbean before it made initial landfall on Cozumel. The storm's slow movement over the Mayan Riviera and Cozumel caused tremendous damage there as the storm essentially stalled out for two days over Cozumel and the eastern tip of the Yucatan.

Wilma strengthened in an environment that is typically hostile for tropical systems -- there was a strong jet of 30-40 mph wind aloft that normally would shear away thunderstorms; however, Wilma was steered rapidly northeast in the midst of the jet and was able to utilize the strong winds to help restrengthen -- in fact, Wilma reached a max wind speed of 125 miles per hour after crossing Florida while out in the open Atlantic to the east of Jacksonville, moving at over 40 miles per hour as it was caught up in the strong upper level wind flow.

Wilma caused $21 billion in damage in Florida alone from the storm.

Josh Morgerman, who "chased" Wilma in 2005, made this video of the storm as it crossed near Everglades City.

Wilma did not directly impact our weather but we had our own bit of meteorological fun during that timeframe. We picked up 0.81" of rain in the city and dealt with a raw, biting east and northeast wind for two days. At the Shore, winds gusted to as high as 71 miles per hour as a coastal storm developed thanks to the digging trough (the same atmospheric player that pushed Wilma northeast through Florida) and lifted northeast in tandem with Wilma.