Hurricane Ian Made Landfall Just Short of a Rare Category 5 Storm
Hurricane Ian came ashore Wednesday as one of the most powerful storms to menace the United States in decades, just short of the rarest — and strongest — class of hurricane, a Category 5.
A storm reaches that classification on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale when its winds exceed 157 miles per hour. Ian’s winds appeared to top out at 155 mph, and had weakened slightly before making landfall at 3:05 pm, according to the National Hurricane Center.
In the last three decades, only two Category 5 storms have made landfall in the United States: Hurricane Michael four years ago, and Hurricane Andrew 30 years ago, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Both hit Florida.
Michael, one of the most powerful storms to make landfall on the continental United States, slammed Florida’s Panhandle region in October 2018. It packed maximum sustained winds of 161 miles per hour and left a 200-mile trail of destruction. Its winds were so strong that the National Weather Service office in Tallahassee issued its first Extreme Wind Warning, a rare act among Weather Service offices.
Michael was blamed for the deaths of 16 people, and it caused about $25 billion in damage in the United States, according to a report from the National Hurricane Center.
Andrew packed 165 mph winds as it hit South Florida in August 1992 and later struck Louisiana as a Category 3 storm. At the time, it was the costliest hurricane in US history, causing about $27 billion in damage, or about $56 billion in 2022 dollars. Andrew was blamed for 61 deaths, and destroyed more than 125,000 homes. At least 160,000 people were left homeless in Dade County, Fla.
After Andrew thumped south Miami-Dade County, the region improved its approach to hurricane preparation. South Florida approved a building code intended to help structures better withstand high winds, and new laws required supermarkets and hospitals to be equipped with generators so they could reopen quickly after a storm. Andrew also gave rise to the modern-day federal, state and local emergency response system.
Wind speed does not directly correlate with devastation: Hurricane Katrina weakened significantly from its peak Category 5 intensity by the time it made landfall in the United States, causing catastrophic flooding in New Orleans in 2005.