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Weather officials upgrade Hurricane Michael to Category 5 storm as it struck Florida

By Adriana Navarro, AccuWeather staff writer
April 22, 2019, 3:39:49 PM EDT

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.

hurricane Michael aerial damage

Damaged homes are seen along the water's edge in the aftermath of hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., Friday, Oct. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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.

Hurricane Andrew Destruction

This water tower, shown Aug. 25, 1992, a landmark at Florida City, Fla., still stands over the ruins of the Florida coastal community that was hit by the force of Hurricane Andrew. The storm damage to the South Florida area was estimated at $15 billion, leaving about 50,000 homeless. (AP Photo/Ray Fairall)

"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."

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Reanalyzing aircraft data and satellite estimations can also lead to adjusting the category of a storm, according to Kottlowski.

Michael is now the fourth Category 5 hurricane to strike the mainland U.S. in recorded history behind Andrew (1992), Camille (1969) and the Labor Day Storm of 1935.

category 5 hurricane michael

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.

hurricane michael mexico beach

A home stands damaged from Hurricane Michael as members of a South Florida urban search and rescue team look for survivors in Mexico Beach, Fla., Friday, Oct. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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."

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