The Most Intense Tropical Storms on Earth Yet Recorded

By: Christopher C. Burt , 9:15 PM GMT on September 28, 2012

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The Most Intense Tropical Storms on Earth Yet Recorded

On September 15th Super Typhoon Sanba reached its maximum intensity with 150-knot (175 mph) winds and a central pressure of 900 mb (26.58”) according to the Tropical Cyclone Information center at the Japanese Meteorological Agency. It was the strongest tropical storm on earth since Typhoon Megi bottomed out at 885 mb (26.14”) in the open waters of the Western Pacific on August 17, 2010. Herein is a short blog listing all the known tropical storms on record (in the world) that have measured central pressures of 900 mb or lower.



A perfect storm. Super Typhoon Sanba reached ‘perfect’ tropical storm genesis on September 15th this month. The outline of the Philippine Islands can be seen on the left of the image. Photo from NASA by the MODIS instrument aboard NASA's Aqua satellite.

The caveats to these lists

We have a fairly good record for the history of intense tropical storms in the North Atlantic Basin (which includes the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico) going back to around 1900 (and even earlier) because of the great amount of ship traffic that has been traversing the Atlantic between Europe and the Americas for centuries, and then, beginning in 1970, weather satellites devoted to observing the weather over the Atlantic Ocean. However, this (a long observation period of record) cannot be said for the other ocean basins of the world where tropical storms frequently form.

By far, the most active region in the world for tropical storm formation is the Western Pacific Ocean (both North and South) where throughout history devastating typhoons have wreaked havoc from Australia to Japan. We know the 1940s were a particularly active decade in the Pacific due to the damage the typhoons caused to both the American and Japanese naval fleets during World War Two.

However, it was not until 1959 with the establishment of the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) by the U.S. Navy in Guam that a dedicated effort was made to begin monitoring tropical storm activity in the West Pacific. Actually, the center was first formed in 1945 following Typhoon Cobra that, on December 18th 1944, sank dozens of U.S. war ships in the Pacific Ocean a few hundred miles east of the Philippines resulting in the loss of 790 U.S. Navy personnel: the worst U.S. military naval loss due to a single weather in history and also known as Halsey's Typhoon named a after Admiral William 'Bull' Halsey commander of the Third Fleet at the time.



The aircraft carrier USS Langley (CVL-27) lists dangerously during Typhoon Cobra east of the Philippines in December 1944. Some 790 U.S. sailors lost their lives during this storm, mostly when three destroyers, the USS Hull, USS Monaghan, and USS Spence capsized and sank accounting for 775 of the fatalities. Photo from Wikipedia file.

In 2000, the JTWC moved its headquarters to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii from where it now operates.

It should also be noted that the methods of determining an individual tropical storm’s minimum pressure have changed over time. In the Atlantic Basin prior to 1950 the pressures were measured by ships or surface stations. Since then the Hurricane Hunter aircraft have flown into storms and made pressure measurements by dropsondes. In the Pacific aircraft were also used from 1959 to 1987 when a new less costly (in dollars and lives) method came into use using the so-called Knaff-Zehr wind-pressure relationship.



Approximately 25 lives were lost during the years the U.S. Navy typhoon hunters made their passes between 1945-1987. The six above were investigating Typhoon Bless in October 1974 when their aircraft disappeared on a flight mission. From JTWC archives 1974.

This is a method of determining central air pressure by correlation to estimated maximum wind surface speeds. Consequently, there is some disagreement about how low a storm’s actual pressure may be between various agencies like the JTWC, the Tropical Cyclone Information arm of the Japanese Meteorological Agency, or the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. For instance, the JTWC estimated Typhoon Sanba’s lowest pressure at 911 mb vs. the 900 mb estimated by the Japanese Met. Service. The Japanese estimate seems closer to reality given Sanba’s peak sustained winds of 175 mph.

Aside from the Pacific and Atlantic, even less (so far as storm details like central barometric pressure) is known about historic cyclones that have occurred with regularity in the Indian Ocean region, especially the Bay of Bengal. Recently, beginning in 2003, the JTWC has undertaken observations for this region as well.

So the bottom line is that good statistics for the Atlantic Basin go back to 1900, for the W. Pacific Ocean to 1959, and for the Indian Ocean to 2003 (aside from land-based measurements).

Wind Speeds

The winds of these storms are mostly estimated but virtually every storm with a pressure of 900 mb or less will produce maximum sustained winds of 140 knots (160 mph) or higher. Wind gusts of up to and over 200 mph have been measured by surface sites as well. The most intense storm of all, Typhoon Tip, saw a barometric pressure reading made by aircraft at 870 mb (25.69”) and sustained surface winds of 170 knots (195 mph). Some comments in the JTWC annual summary for 1979 can be read here from the their summary report in 1979:






Best Typhoon photo



An intense typhoon struck Polynesia’s Artua Atoll in the South Pacific during 1983 forcing the evacuation of the island’s residents. I've seen few clear images that have so well captured an evacuation from a perilous situation as this one image. Photo by Philippe Mazellier.

The Tables

Since 1959 there have been 108 tropical storms worldwide whose minimum central barometric pressure has fallen to 900 mb (26.58”)or less that we are aware of. Prior to 1959 there are 12 other known cases of such storms. Of the 120 known such storms 108 have formed in the Western Pacific Ocean (98 in the Northwestern Pacific and 10 in the Southwestern Pacific). Only 5 tropical storms of this intensity are known to have occurred in the Atlantic Basin (including the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico).



The past 6 years (since 2006) have seen a period of relative quiet so far as these monster tropical storms are concerned. Prior to Super Typhoon Sanba this month, there has been only one other 900 mb or stronger storm recorded on earth: Typhoon Megi in 2010. The 1990s was the decade with the most such storms with 1997 the single most active year with an amazing 10 such storms.





Here are the ‘Top Five’ strongest storms on record (so far as central pressure is concerned) by region:


NOTE: Hurricane Rita's pressure has been officially revised to 895 mb not 897 mb. Thanks to WU commentator '1900Hurricane' for the heads up about Rita!

Below is a comprehensive list of every known tropical storm in the world to have reached (or estimated to have reached) a central sea-surface barometric pressure reading of 900 mb (26.58”) or lower. This list has been culled from many sources although the JTWC database has provided the bulk of the information (since the vast number of such storms have occurred in the West and South Pacific Ocean). For the sake of clarity I have not included the actual day of each storms maximum intensity although I have that information for those who might be interested:

LOWEST BAROMETRIC PRESSURES EVER MEASURED IN TROPICAL STORMS WORLDWIDE

(900 mb or lower) as of September 2012


**RANK/PRESSURE LOCATION DATE NAME



1) 870 (25.69) W. Pacific 1979 Tip


2) 872 (25.75) W. Pacific 1997 Joan

872 (25.75) W. Pacific 1997 Ivan

872 (25.75) W. Pacific 1992 Gay


3) 876 (25.86) W. Pacific 1983 Forrest

876 (25.86) W. Pacific 1975 June


4) 877 (25.89) W. Pacific 1973 Nora

877 (25.89) W. Pacific 1958 Ida


5) 878 (25.92) W. Pacific 2000 Damrey

878 (25.92) W. Pacific 1998 Zeb

878 (25.92) W. Pacific 1997 Keith

878 (25.92) W. Pacific 1992 Yvette

878 (25.92) W. Pacific 1978 Rita


6) 879 (25.95) W. Pacific 2004 Chaba

879 (25.95) S. Pacific 2002 Zoe

879 (25.95) W. Pacific 2001 Faxai

879 (25.95) W. Pacific 1995 Angela

879 (25.95) W. Pacific 1984 Vanessa

879 (25.96) Australia region 2006 Monica


7) 880 (26.01) W. Pacific 1966 Kit


8) 882 (26.05) Caribbean 2005 Wilma

882 (26.05) W. Pacific 1961 Nancy

882 (26.05) W. Pacific 1961 Violet


9) 884 (26.11) W. Pacific 1971 Irma


10)885 (26.14) W. Pacific 2010 Megi

885 (26.14) W. Pacific 2004 Dianmu

885 (26.14) W. Pacific 2003 Maemi

885 (26.14) W. Pacific 1991 Yuri

885 (26.14) W. Pacific 1990 Mike



11)886 (26.16) W. Pacific 1954 Ida

886 (26.16) W. Pacific 1951 Marge

886 (26.16) W. Pacific 1900 SS Arethusa


12)887 (26.18) W. Pacific 1979 Judy

887 (26.18) W. Pacific 1927 SS Sapoeroea


13)888 (26.22) Caribbean 1988 Gilbert

888 (26.22) W. Pacific 1983 Abby


14)890 (26.27) W. Pacific 1980 Wynne

890 (26.27) W. Pacific 1969 Elsie

890 (26.27) W. Pacific 1967 Gilda


15)891 (26.30) W. Pacific 2003 Lupit

891 (26.30) W. Pacific 1990 Flo

891 (26.30) W. Pacific 1987 Betty

891 (26.30) W. Pacific 1987 Nima

891 (26.30) W. Pacific 1959 Joan

891 (26.30) Bay of Bengal 1833 SS Duke of York


16)892 (26.35) S. Pacific 2005 Olaf

892 (26.35) W. Pacific 1997 Isa

892 (26.35) W. Pacific 1997 Ginger

892 (26.35) W. Pacific 1992 Elsie

892 (26.35) W. Pacific 1991 Ruth

892 (26.35) Long Key, Florida 1935 Labor Day Storm

(this is the lowest pressure ever observed at a land station on earth)


17)893 (26.37) W. Pacific 1981 Elysie

893 (26.37) W. Pacific 1973 Patsy


18)894 (26.39) W. Pacific 1964 Sally


19)895 (26.39) Gulf of Mexico 2005 Rita

895 (26.39) Indian Ocean 2004 Gafilo

895 (26.39) W. Pacific 1982 Mac

895 (26.42) W. Pacific 1976 Louise

895 (26.42) W. Pacific 1971 Amy

895 (26.42) W. Pacific 1970 Hope


20)896 (26.45) W. Pacific 1983 Marge

896 (26.45) W. Pacific 1959 Vera


21) 897 (26.48) W. Pacific 1985 Dot

897 (26.48) W. Pacific 1969 Viola

897 (26.48) W. Pacific 1962 Karen


22)898 (26.51) S. Pacific 2006 Glenda

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 2005 Nabi

898 (26.51) S. Pacific 2005 Bento

898 (26.51) S. Pacific 2005 Percy

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 2005 Haitang

898 (26.51) S. Pacific 2004 Heta

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 2004 Nida

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 2004 Ma-On

898 (26.51) S. Pacific 2003 Kalunde

898 (26.51) S. Pacific 2003 Inigo

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 2002 Harry

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 2001 Podul

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 2000 Saomai

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 2000 Bilis

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1999 Bart

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1997 Oliwa

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1997 Winnie

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1997 Rosie

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1997 Nestor

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1996 Dale

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1996 Sally

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1996 Herd

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1996 Eve

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1995 Ward

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1995 Oscar

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1995 Kent

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1994 Doug

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1993 Ed

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1991 Walt

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1990 Owen

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1990 Page

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1989 Nima

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1989 Elsie

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1989 Gordon

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1989 Andy

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1988 Nelson

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1987 Lynn

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1987 Holly

898 (26.51) Indian Ocean 1982 Damia

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1979 Hope

898 (26.51) W. Pacific 1971 Nadine


23)899 (26.54) Caribbean 1980 Allen


24)900 (26.58) W. Pacific 2012 Sanba

900 (26.58) Australia region 2003 Inigo

900 (26.58) Australia region 1999 Gwenda

900 (26.58) S. Pacific 1998 Ron

900 (26.58) S. Pacific 1998 Susan

900 (26.58) E. Pacific 1997 Linda

900 (26.58) W. Pacific 1986 Progy

900 (26.58) W. Pacific 1975 Elsie

900 (26.58) W. Pacific 1957 Virginia

900 (26.58) W. Pacific 1957 Lola

900 (26.58) W. Pacific 1957 Hester

900 (26.58) W. Pacific 1954 Pamela

900 (26.58) W. Pacific 1953 Tess


** Ranking has been made chronologically, with more recent measurements ranking first



Christopher C. Burt

Weather Historian

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10. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
4:27 AM GMT on October 06, 2012
weatherhistorian has created a new entry.
9. Some1Has2BtheRookie
1:47 AM GMT on October 05, 2012
Quoting Snowfire:
One complicating factor: the numbers from storms such as Wilma and Gilbert are pressures measured during pinholing, when the very narrow radius of eyewall curvature would be expected to produce particularly low pressures. As pinholing occurs (if it does at all) during the building stage of the storm when the capping anticyclone is not well-established, and before the storm as a whole has reached maximum development, I think these numbers deserve an asterisk--it is not the same as storms such as Monica, Rita or Tip which produced their lowest pressures with normal eyewall diameter and near maximum development for the storm as a whole.


I believe that the jest of the conversation is in what low pressure readings these storms were able to obtain and not how they obtained the low pressure. A low pressure reading is a low pressure reading. How a storm was able to obtain a low pressure reading may be up for debate, but not that the storms actually obtained their low pressure readings. At least this is what I thought the jest of the conversation was.
Member Since: August 24, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 4758
8. Snowfire
1:07 AM GMT on October 05, 2012
One complicating factor: the numbers from storms such as Wilma and Gilbert are pressures measured during pinholing, when the very narrow radius of eyewall curvature would be expected to produce particularly low pressures. As pinholing occurs (if it does at all) during the building stage of the storm when the capping anticyclone is not well-established, and before the storm as a whole has reached maximum development, I think these numbers deserve an asterisk--it is not the same as storms such as Monica, Rita or Tip which produced their lowest pressures with normal eyewall diameter and near maximum development for the storm as a whole.
Member Since: June 29, 2005 Posts: 24 Comments: 309
6. GeorgiaStormz
1:41 PM GMT on September 29, 2012
Thanks!!!
Very interesting!
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 9738
5. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
12:23 AM GMT on September 29, 2012
BTW, thanks also for the two great links you provided. I recommend all readers of my blog to also check these links out. I was aware of the controversy about Monica but not about Gay and Angela. Very interesting!

Quoting 1900hurricane:
Excellent entry! I'm not sure if you have read these or not, but here are a few papers that I think you would find interesting:

Have There Been Any Typhoons Stronger Than Super Typhoon Tip?

Remote Sensing and Modeling of Cyclone Monica near Peak
Intensity


In the wind speed section of your entry, there is a place where you have incorrectly stated that Tip's minimum pressure was 970 mb instead of 870 mb. Also, Hurricane Rita was later analyzed to have had a minimum pressure of 895 mb, a touch lower than the 897 mb you have put down for her pressure.

Once again, thanks for the excellent blog!
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 312 Comments: 293
4. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
12:11 AM GMT on September 29, 2012
Thanks 1900Hurricane! I've updated the blog to reflect your excellent corrections!


Quoting 1900hurricane:
Excellent entry! I'm not sure if you have read these or not, but here are a few papers that I think you would find interesting:

Have There Been Any Typhoons Stronger Than Super Typhoon Tip?

Remote Sensing and Modeling of Cyclone Monica near Peak
Intensity


In the wind speed section of your entry, there is a place where you have incorrectly stated that Tip's minimum pressure was 970 mb instead of 870 mb. Also, Hurricane Rita was later analyzed to have had a minimum pressure of 895 mb, a touch lower than the 897 mb you have put down for her pressure.

Once again, thanks for the excellent blog!
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 312 Comments: 293
3. 1900hurricane
11:30 PM GMT on September 28, 2012
Excellent entry! I'm not sure if you have read these or not, but here are a few papers that I think you would find interesting:

Have There Been Any Typhoons Stronger Than Super Typhoon Tip?

Remote Sensing and Modeling of Cyclone Monica near Peak
Intensity


In the wind speed section of your entry, there is a place where you have incorrectly stated that Tip's minimum pressure was 970 mb instead of 870 mb. Also, Hurricane Rita was later analyzed to have had a minimum pressure of 895 mb, a touch lower than the 897 mb you have put down for her pressure.

Once again, thanks for the excellent blog!
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 46 Comments: 11683
2. PensacolaDoug
11:29 PM GMT on September 28, 2012
As Spock would say, "fascinating"!
Member Since: July 25, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 595
1. pcola57
10:14 PM GMT on September 28, 2012
Wow..great job Chris thanks
..fantastic info and very interesting..
Thanks again
Member Since: August 13, 2009 Posts: 13 Comments: 6893

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About weatherhistorian

Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.