Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.
By: Christopher C. Burt , 9:23 PM GMT on September 23, 2011
Atlantic Basin Tropical Storm Superlatives
The normal peak of tropical storm activity for both the Atlantic and Pacific Basins has just been reached this past week or so. Of course, many years bring their most powerful hurricanes or typhoons well after this ‘peak’ period and, in fact, some of the records for storm strength have occurred well into October. Below is a summary of some tropical storm ‘superlatives’ from the Atlantic Basin region. This includes the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico where the most intense hurricanes on record have formed. Next week I will cover the Pacific and Indian Ocean areas.
This chart illustrates the worldwide frequency of tropical storms (blue area) and storms of hurricane/typhoon intensity (pink area) by month of occurrence. Graphic from “Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book” derived from data compiled by Charles Neumann.
THE MOST INTENSE ATLANTIC HURRICANE ON RECORD
HURRICANE WILMA: Hurricane Wilma holds several of the ‘greatest hurricane on record’ superlatives. Using the criteria of lowest barometric pressure measured, Hurricane Wilma became the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin on October 19, 2005. Its central pressure fell to 882mb (26.05”) early that day while approaching the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Wilma also holds the record for the fastest intensification of any hurricane when its pressure fell 100mb (2.94”) in 24 hours on Oct. 18-19. In one two-hour period Wilma’s central pressure fell an amazing 45mb (1.32”) between 8pm-10pm on Oct. 18 local time. Wilma also holds the record for the smallest eye observed when it contracted to just 2 miles in diameter when she was at her strongest on Oct. 19th. Hurricane Hunter aircraft had difficulty maneuvering inside the eye at this point.
Two images from space of Hurricane Wilma at her peak when the eye had shrunk to just two miles in diameter. The bottom image was taken by the crew aboard NASA’s international space station at an altitude 222 miles above the storm when it was located 340 miles southeast of Cozumel, Mexico.
Another superlative attributed to Wilma (for the Atlantic Basin at least) was the rainfall she brought to Isla Mujeres at the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula when 64.33” of rain fell in 24 hours Oct. 21-22 (with 68” over 48 hours). This is the greatest 24-hour rainfall ever measured not only in the Atlantic Basin from a tropical storm but also anywhere in the world outside of Reunion Island and Taiwan. Wilma’s maximum winds were estimated to have reached 185mph with 220mph gusts at her peak intensity but fortunately these winds and her strength had greatly subsided by the time she made landfall in the Yucatan.
HIGHEST MEASURED WIND SPEEDS OF ATLANTIC BASIN TROPICAL STORMS
The highest officially accepted wind gust ever measured during the passage of a tropical storm in the Atlantic Basin was 213mph at Pinar Del Rio, Cuba during the passage of Hurricane Gustav on Aug. 30, 2008. Wind gusts of 200mph or more were estimated to have occurred in the Florida Keys during the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 and possibly when Hurricane Camille struck Pass Christian, Mississippi in 1969.
Below is a list of the highest measured hurricane wind speeds at land sites in North America. These are by no means the highest wind speeds historically attained in hurricanes, just the top ten that were actually measured rather than estimated. Very few anemometers are capable of surviving 150mph+ wind speeds, let alone registering such:
NOTE: The year for the Gustav wind record should read 2008, not 2009. Thanks to WU observer "petewxwatcher" for this correction!
DEADLIEST ATLANTIC BASIN HURRICANE
The Great Hurricane of 1780 is reputed to have killed approximately 22,000 people on the islands and in the waters surrounding the Caribbean Islands of Barbados, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Martinique, Guadalupe, and Dominica between October 10th and 17th of that year. Most of the casualties were sailors in the British fleet that was harbored in the region at that time. The deadliest hurricane in modern times was Hurricane Mitch, which killed an estimated at 19,000 in Honduras and Nicaragua in October of 1998. Below is a chart of the deadliest Atlantic hurricanes in recorded history:
Source from Wikipedia
This is most likely Hurricane Katrina with total damages estimated to be in excess of US$100 billion in 2005 dollars. A possible contender would be the great hurricane of September 1926 that caused close to $100 billion inflation-adjusted dollars worth of damage to Florida and Alabama.
GREATEST HURRICANE STORM SURGE
Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge was reported to reach 28 feet along portions of the Mississippi’s coastline in the Gulfport-Biloxi area on Aug. 29, 2005 surpassing the previous record surge of 24.5 feet during Hurricane Camille at Pass Christian, also in Mississippi.
LOWEST BAROMETRIC PRESSURES
As mentioned above, Wilma holds the record for the lowest barometric pressure ever observed in the Western Hemisphere. Below is a table of the top ten most intense Atlantic hurricanes so far as minimum eye-pressure is concerned:
Source from Wikipedia.
BUSIEST HURRICANE SEASON
As Jeff Masters mentioned in his blog earlier this week, 2005 produced 28 tropical storms, the most in one season since records have been reliably kept.
LEAST ACTIVE HURRICANE SEASON
Apparently, only one tropical storm formed during the seasons of 1890 and 1914. However, it is likely that some storms went undetected in areas beyond the normal shipping lanes during those years.
LATEST AND EARLIEST TROPICAL STORM IN A SEASON
This record is held by a single storm: Hurricane Alice which persisted from December 31, 1954 to January 5, 1955, thus becoming both the latest and earliest tropical storm to have formed in the Atlantic Basin.
LONGEST LIVED TROPICAL STORM
The San Ciriaco hurricane, named after the town it devastated in Puerto Rico, was in existence for 33 days from its first formation as a tropical depression on August 3, 1899 until it became extra-tropical on September 4th. Of these 33 days it was a tropical storm for 28 days tying Hurricane Ginger of 1971 for top honors.
GREATEST NUMBER OF HURRICANES ACTIVE AT THE SAME TIME
Twice in recent history there have been four active hurricanes churning in the Atlantic Basin simultaneously. The first time was in August 1893 and the 2nd time in September 1998. One of the 1893 storms eventually came ashore in Georgia and South Carolina killing as many as 2,000 residents of low-lying islands along the coastline.
MOST NAMES ATTRIBUTED TO A SINGLE TROPICAL STORM
Tropical Storm Hattie formed off the coast of Nicaragua on October 28, 1961 and then drifted north and west crossing the Central American isthmus before emerging in the Eastern Pacific where it was re-christened Tropical Storm Simone. Two days later, the storm curled back towards the coastline and once again crossed Mexico and emerged into the Gulf of Mexico where it was renamed Tropical Storm Inga.
MOST TORNADOES SPAWNED FROM ONE TROPICAL STORM
Hurricane Ivan spawned 119 tornadoes in the eastern U.S. between Sept. 15-18, 2004. Eighteen of the tornadoes reached F-2 intensity (mostly in Florida) and there was even one F-3 in the Remington, Virginia area, unusually strong for such during a tropical storm. Nine deaths were directly attributed to the tornado events.
Hurricane Beulah spawned 115 tornadoes when the storm came ashore near Brownsville, Texas on Sept. 20, 1967. Other reports counted as many as 155 but the 115 figure has been determined as the most accurate according to tornado expert Thomas P. Grazulis. All of the tornadoes occurred in the northern quadrants of the hurricane. There were five reported deaths attributed to the tornadoes.
GREATEST PRECIPITATION TOTAL FROM A TROPICAL STORM
As mentioned above, Hurricane Wilma produced the greatest 24-hour rainfall ever measured during a tropical storm in the Western Hemisphere. However, greater amounts have been recorded over longer periods of time. The most on record for a single tropical storm is the 112.80” that fell at the Silver Hill Plantation, Jamaica over the course of 5 days Nov. 5-9, 1909. Hurricane Daisy in 1962 did not directly strike Cuba, but moisture inflow from the Caribbean caused by the storm resulted in 79.72” of rain falling over a 3-day period at Tacajo, Cuba between Oct. 4-6.
Next week I’ll blog on typhoon and cyclone superlatives of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Christopher C. Burt
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