MIAMI (AP) — Hurricane Michael, which devastated the Florida Panhandle last fall, was actually stronger than initially measured, prompting forecasters to posthumously upgrade it from a Category 4 storm to a Category 5, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Friday.
The upgraded status means Michael was the first hurricane to make landfall in the United States as a Category 5 since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and only the fourth on record.
National Hurricane Center scientists conducted a detailed post-storm analysis for Hurricane Michael, which made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, and Tyndall Air Force Base on October 10, 2018.
They’ve determined that its estimated intensity at landfall was 160 mph (257 kph), a 5 mph (8 kph) increase over the operational estimate used last fall, NOAA said in a news release.
That puts Michael just barely over the 157 mph (252 kph) threshold for a category 5 hurricane.
Just 36 hours before hitting Florida’s coast, Michael was making its way through the Gulf of Mexico as a 90 mph (145 kph) Category 1 storm.
Michael was directly responsible for 16 deaths and about $25 billion in damage in the U.S., and parts of the Florida Panhandle are still recovering from the destruction more than six months later.
The new landfall speed was determined by a review of the available aircraft winds, surface winds, surface pressures, satellite intensity estimates and Doppler radar velocities, NOAA said.
That includes data and analyses that weren’t available during the storm.
The increase in the estimated maximum sustained wind speed from the operational estimate is small and well within the normal range of uncertainty, NOAA said.