Wilma: freak of nature

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:25 PM GMT on October 19, 2005

Share this Blog
2
+

There has never been a hurricane like Wilma before. With an unbelievable round of intensification that saw the pressure drop 87 mb in just 12 hours, Wilma smashed the all-time record for lowest pressure in an Atlantic hurricane this morning. The 4 am hurricane hunter report put the pressure at 882 mb, easily besting the previous record of 888 mb set in Hurricane Gilbert of 1988. Since no hurricane hunter airplane has been in the eye since then, Wilma may be even stronger now. The eye diameter of Wilma during this round of intensification shrunk as low as 2 nautical miles, which may be the smallest eye diameter ever measured in a tropical cyclone. The only eye I could find close to that small in the records was a 3 nm one, the Category 4 Typhoon Jeliwat in 2000. It's amazing the hurricane hunters were even able to penetrate the eye--it's really tough to hit a 2 mile wide eye when you're flying crabbed over at a 30 degree yaw angle fighting horizontal flight level winds of 185 mph and severe turbulence. This is an incredibly compact, amazingly intense hurricane, the likes of which has never been seen in the Atlantic. The Hurricane Season of 2005 keeps topping itself with new firsts, and now boasts three of the five most intense hurricanes of all time--Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.

Where will Wilma go?
There is a lot of uncertainty about this, as usual. After last night's flight by the NOAA jet, the computer models have come into better agreement, forecasting a track northwest through the Yucatan Channel, and then northeast across southern Florida. Cuba will probably end up getting the worst of Wilma, particularly the western tip of Cuba, which could see a direct hit.

After Cuba comes Florida. The models are converging on a landfall over the sparsely populated Everglades, but Wilma could hit as far north as Sarasota or pass south of the Keys. In any case, I expect the evacuation order for non-residents in the Keys will be given today, and the Keys and residents of southwest Florida from Naples southward are at greatest risk from Wilma. Assuming Wilma does hit the Everglades as expected, the Gold Coast of Florida from Miami to West Palm Beach is in for a severe pounding after Wilma crosses south Florida.

How strong will Wilma be?
Hurricanes do not maintain Category 5 strength very long, and Wilma is unlikely to be at that strength when it clears the Yucatan Channel and turns northeast towards Florida. Combine with that the possible effects of weakening due to interaction of a landfall on the western tip of Cuba or the northeast tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, Wilma is likely to be a Category 3 or 4 hurricane as it starts bearing down on southwest Florida. When Wilma does make this turn, the winds that will be turning her will also be creating some significant wind shear, which will weaken the storm. Wilma will be moving fairly quickly, though, so the shear won't have a lot of time to weaken her. I'm guessing this weakening will be in the order of 10 - 20 mph.

The end result of all these factors will cause Wilma to hit southwest Florida in the Everglades as a Category 3 or weak Category 4 hurricane with winds in the 120 mph - 135 mph range. The Everglades are low and swampy, and passage over the this area does not weaken a hurricane as much as landfall further north over the Florida Peninsula. In the case of Hurricane Andrew, which passed across the Everglades on a reverse path, the hurricane started its traverse as a Category 5 hurricane with 170 mph winds and a 922 mb central pressure. By the time it emerged in the Gulf of Mexico, Andrew was a Category 3 hurricane with 130 mph winds and a central pressure of 951 mb. Andrew was a very small hurricane, and passage over the Everglades weakened it considerably. In the case of Hurricane Katrina earlier this year, the traverse of south Florida did not significantly weaken the storm. Katrina started its traverse of south Florida with a central pressure of 981 mb and 80 mph winds, and finished with a central pressure of 985 mb and 75 mph winds. Katrina was a much larger storm than Andrew, and more representative of the size Wilma is likely to have over Florida.

The closest analogue storm I can find in the archives is an October 1906 hurricane that looks remarkably similar. The 1906 hurricane formed in the western Caribbean, brushed Cuba as it passed through the Yucatan Channel, then crossed extreme southern Florida, passing from the Everglades to Fort Lauderdale. This hurricane weakened from a Category 4 hurricane with 135 mph winds to a Category 3 hurricane with 125 mph winds as it crossed Florida.

I think we can expect Wilma to behave in a similar fashion as the 1906 hurricane, and lose about 10 mph in its peak winds due to passage over the Everglades. Wilma may lose an additional 5 mph due to the continued action of the expected higher wind shear. This would make Wilma a strong Category 2 or weak Category 3 hurricane over Miami/Fort Lauderdale with peak winds of 105 - 120 mph. A really big question is how far out will the hurricane force winds extend? Wilma is currently a very compact storm with hurricane force winds extending out only 15 miles from the center. If she maintains this compact structure, damage in Florida will be limited to a very small area. However, with three days remaining over very warm waters, Wilma will expand its windfield somewhat, so that hurricane force winds will extend out 60 - 90 miles from the center. This will be enough to cause severe damage to the Gold Coast in the $10 - $20 billion range. If Wilma follows the path I expect, this will be the worst hurricane in the Miami Beach/Fort Lauderdale area since 1965's Hurricane Betsy.

Keep in mind that the average error in a hurricane track forecasts four days is over 200 miles, and that our skill in making intensity forecasts is low--as witnessed in Wilma's incredible ascent from a Category 1 to Category 5 hurricane in just 12 hours.

What has Wilma done so far?
Wilma has claimed her first victims; up to ten are dead on Haiti in landslides triggered by the hurricane's heavy rains. Mudslides and flooding are also serious problems in the southeastern Cuban provinces of Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba and Granma. Nearly 13 inches (33 cm) of rain was measured at Santiago de Cuba yesterday. The Cuban newspaper Granma is reporting 255 homes damaged or destroyed in that town, and sections of the Sevilla-Guamá-Santiago de Cuba highway impassable due to swollen rivers, while landslides have blocked the Cordovelo-Loma Blanca road. In Jamaica, widespread flooding has cut off several communities and caused millions in damage to roads. All schools are closed on the island through Thursday and hospitals are taking only emergency patients. Rainfall rates as high as two inches per hour were observed in the Blue Mountains of south-central Jamaica yesterday.

I'll have another update this afternoon, there's a lot more to talk about.

Jeff Masters

Reader Comments

Comments will take a few seconds to appear.

Post Your Comments

Please sign in to post comments.

Sign In or Register Sign In or Register

Not only will you be able to leave comments on this blog, but you'll also have the ability to upload and share your photos in our Wunder Photos section.

Display: 0, 50, 100, 200 Sort: Newest First - Order Posted

Viewing: 452 - 402

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10Blog Index

452. TampaSteve
8:20 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
Just a note...you can go to Google and type in "XXX knots in mph" or "XXX mph in knots" and it will convert it for you...sweet!
451. westcoastfla
7:53 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
does anyone have a link to katrina's models say one week out or so?
Member Since: October 19, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 7
450. wpbpasogirl
7:53 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
Windnwaves-with this kind of talking you aint gonna be on my Christmas list either! :)
449. westcoastfla
7:44 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
is the gfdl the most concise in peoples opinion 3 other models still showing it coming inot to sw fla?
Member Since: October 19, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 7
448. stormydee
7:38 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
new post everyone
Member Since: August 25, 2005 Posts: 39 Comments: 517
447. ralphfurley
7:38 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
sorry, dont mean to single you out windwaves, but thats the type of thinking that surprised people in South Dade when Katrina hit. Thats the type of thinking that keeps a mall in Miami Dade open because the worst is due in Broward. Sure you might miss the 100mph winds but that 80mph may knock out your power, blow your neighbor's porch into a canal and make driving on I95 hell on earth. A storm is headed our way, we should prepare now and expect the worst. being a few zipcodes away from landfall is no way to make plans.
Member Since: September 18, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 117
446. cellman007
7:35 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
I think the one thing we know for sure is that no one knows anything when it comes to Wilma at this point. Looks like they throwing everything out and starting over......lol
Member Since: September 1, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 22
444. weatherboyfsu
7:33 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
The models have changed again.......who knows what will happen.......
Member Since: July 17, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1025
443. subtropic
7:32 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
windnwaves - of course you realize this means you are off my xmas card list ;-)
Member Since: August 29, 2002 Posts: 209 Comments: 4434
442. stormydee
7:32 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
cellman, Joe gives me hope for my planned vacation this weekend...and so do these models Link
But not the 5 day forecast Link
Here I go again, round and round and round and round...
Should I stay or should I go?
I guess tomorrow I will know :-)
Member Since: August 25, 2005 Posts: 39 Comments: 517
441. ralphfurley
7:31 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
sorry...but WILMA hitting Fort Meyers would mean a very bad day/night for me here in Fort Lauderdale.
Member Since: September 18, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 117
440. billsfaninsofla
7:31 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
gamera- I wouldn't go there either, no way
Member Since: September 5, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 6467
438. cellman007
7:25 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
Here's what Bastardi is saying:

Wilma remains in an area favorable for maintaining its strength. The water temperatures and depth of very warm water (80 degrees Fahrenheit or greater) is in place over the northwestern Caribbean and even into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico. Upper-LEvel winds remain light but are in a position to vent the outflowing air at the top of Wilma. A hurricane watch might be issued for parts of south and southwest Florida perhaps as early as later Thursday. However, new computer model information shows Wilma moving into the northeast Yucatan and either stalling or moving very slowly Friday into Saturday. This would delay the hurricanes affects on Florida.

High pressure in mid-levels of the atmosphere across the central and western Gulf of Mexico has actually remained fairly strong and that explains why Wilma has been moving more west than north during the past 24 hours. An upper-level storm system moving out of the southwestern states will head northeastward and cause this upper-level high to weaken, especially over the eastern Gulf of Mexico. This upper-level storm will also cause southwesterly winds to increase over the western and central Gulf by Friday. So, as this upper-level high weakens Wilma will sense this weakening and move more northwest then north during Wednesday night and Thursday. However, the upper level system now over the central U.s. is moving faster and does not extend far enough south to influence Wilma entirely. As a result we now believe Wilma will move into the northeast Yucatan slow down and perhaps stall during Friday perhaps into Saturday. As a result movement toward the north or northeast will probably be delayed and that means the hurricane will probably not affect Florida directly until later Saturday night or on Sunday.

All interests in the northwestern Caribbean including western Cuba and the eastern Yucatan and over central and southern Florida should keep in touch with the latest information on Wilma.
Member Since: September 1, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 22
437. stormydee
7:20 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
wx, I said wilma "related"...DAH, I know what a hurricane feels like, was here for Charley, Frances, and Jeanne....please don't pick on my observations...it reminds me of a troll. Thank you!
Member Since: August 25, 2005 Posts: 39 Comments: 517
436. gnshpdude
7:18 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
gamera,

I think I would stay away atleast until Monday! But hey thats me.
Member Since: August 26, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 121
435. stormydee
7:17 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
hey 65, thanks destiny for your support! :-)
I couldn't get that link to work though...
Member Since: August 25, 2005 Posts: 39 Comments: 517
434. gamera
7:16 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
My wife is in New York now, due to fly to Cancun on Thursday morning to pick up a tour leaving Paya del Carmen on Saturday for inland Mexico and Guatemala.
Assuming that it's not exactly the right time to be going now, do you guys think the worst will have passed the Yucatan in 48 hours?
433. wxwatcher
7:15 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
LOL stormy, ok, Wilma may be pushing boundries inland across florida and enhancing lift --BUT those showers are not Wilma herself.

She is 700 miles away, slow down turbo, you'll know if/when the outer rain bands approach florida.
432. gnshpdude
7:14 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
MIAWX,

GFDL did not have it dissapating. They have it looping over the Yucatan and out to the East toward Cuba as a cat 1. Then from there who knows!!!
Member Since: August 26, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 121
431. Destiny
7:13 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
uh oh, the link doesn't work.

Try this one instead. Animate the Sat images.Link
Member Since: September 1, 2002 Posts: 10 Comments: 1
430. Dave30
7:13 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
Different view and ominous - cloud top temps...

Link
429. Destiny
7:12 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
here ya go Stormy, looks like you might be right.

Link
Member Since: September 1, 2002 Posts: 10 Comments: 1
428. weatherdude65
7:11 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
hello all....
427. MIAWX
7:10 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
I guess does this come down to a matter of miles? If Wilma hits the Yucatan it'll dissipate (BAMMs), but if it just misses, it'll continue chugging along near the NHC forecast track (GFS, ECMWF)?
426. stormydee
7:10 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
wx - its been beautiful here and very very very dry since Friday....that is totally wilma related...usually the seabreezes don't setup this late in the year unless, well, something like Wilma pushes warmer air our way and causes the humidity to up...and even still our seabreezes setup N-S and move usually from W to E...now that line Link is only down in south FL and moving west....
Sorry wx, its Wilma related....
Member Since: August 25, 2005 Posts: 39 Comments: 517
425. InPathofWilma
7:09 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
InPath - Did CNN say what that change might be?

NO....CNN did not.... I got the impression that the meteorologist was as puzzled by all this as anyone...
424. EdMahmoud
7:08 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
Any weather conversion (temps, pressure, winds, humidity/dewpoint)-

http://www.srh.noaa.gov/elp/wxcalc/wxcalc.shtml
Member Since: October 19, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1152
423. armchairweatherguy
7:07 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
y'all see this site with aerials of dmgs from storms
http://alt.ngs.noaa.gov/katrina/KATRINA0000.HTM
422. EdMahmoud
7:06 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
European still says South Florida on 12Z run
Member Since: October 19, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1152
421. EdMahmoud
7:04 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
BAMD and BAMM spare Florida
Member Since: October 19, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1152
420. wxwatcher
7:04 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
umm, stormydee, those are seabreeze showers/tstorms not really related to Wilma. Keep trying though, you're doing great..
lol
419. EdMahmoud
7:03 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
BAMs show slow moveent West, than a zip back straight East through Greater Antilles, sparing Florida.


Are the latest BAMs initialized off the 6Z GFS or the 12Z GFS?


Bueller?
Member Since: October 19, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1152
418. MandyFSU
7:02 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
kinda, 21... lol

I just don't understand how these models are flipping all over the place. It's giving me the worst headache. Like I said earlier. I don't know whether to breathe a sigh of relief or pack my shiz and leave! lol
Member Since: August 24, 2005 Posts: 82 Comments: 2525
417. MIAWX
7:02 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
I have to say that the most consistent model has been the ECMWF. Latest ECMWF run takes Wilma to just off the NE tip of the Yucatan, then makes the sharp turn to the ENE and across south florida - across the Everglades and exiting the coast at Miami. GFS is just north of this track.
416. MJH
6:59 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
When I said the models could be off up to thousand miles for the long range I didnt think they could be several thousands of miles off just mid range
415. StellarCyclone
6:58 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
One thing is for sure - these storms can totally wipe out whole areas. If you could see what parts of LA, MS, and AL look like now, you'll know that these storms are not worth taking any risks with. If it's possible it's coming your way, and you live in an area that may be at risk, get out.
414. watchingnva
6:58 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
if you guys look at the mimic Link you can see the outter eyewall really good...just a matter of time before the inner eye clapses.

Link
Member Since: September 7, 2005 Posts: 7 Comments: 1526
413. MJH
6:58 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
So the gdfl went from off the new englnd coast in 5 days to south of cuba from one model run to the next

How many thousnads of miles difference is that?
412. watchingnva
6:57 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
if you guys look at the mimic Link you can see the outter eyewall really good...just a matter of time before the inner eye clapses.
Member Since: September 7, 2005 Posts: 7 Comments: 1526
411. gnshpdude
6:56 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
Sorry RXSE I didn't relaise you had already posted the link
Member Since: August 26, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 121
410. telegon
6:56 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
Mandy - yes.

P-21, You referring to me? If I am, please let me know. Thanks.
409. gnshpdude
6:55 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
I verified the GFDL here. It is the same!Link
Member Since: August 26, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 121
408. stormydee
6:54 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
Link see banding already starting in FL
Member Since: August 25, 2005 Posts: 39 Comments: 517
407. stormydee
6:53 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
ok, starting to already feel Wilma's effects.
After a nice weekend and so far nice week, the clouds are coming and I can bet 100% they are here to stay till after Wilma leaves.
The only good thing is after she leaves, it won't be as hot here as it was with Frances and Jeanne...weatherguy said cool air should follow in behind her, which will be nice to all those who will not have power....
Member Since: August 25, 2005 Posts: 39 Comments: 517
406. FloridaFox7
6:53 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
Thanks NVA, didnt catch the estimation mark on the 900mb information I read.
405. Pensacola21
6:52 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
Mandy - Irritating, huh?
Member Since: September 16, 2005 Posts: 30 Comments: 3912
404. caneman
6:52 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
Somethign about the long anticipated turn? Anyone with further information on this?
Member Since: May 27, 2003 Posts: 14 Comments: 100
403. wxwatcher
6:50 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
I wouldn't start ringing the crisis klaxons in FL just yet (remember Houston anyone?). Until it makes that turn, which I just don't see happening, I would hold off and don't jump the gun on any forecast tracks this early.
402. MandyFSU
6:50 PM GMT on October 19, 2005
telegon- still sticking with that Apalachee Bay landfall? ;-)
Member Since: August 24, 2005 Posts: 82 Comments: 2525

Viewing: 452 - 402

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10Blog Index

Top of Page

About

Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

JeffMasters's Recent Photos

Dunham Lake Sunset
Carrot Nose in Danger
Deep Snow in Brookline, MA
Sunset at Fort DeSoto