Did Hurricane Wilma have 209 mph sustained winds?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:00 PM GMT on April 28, 2012

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At last week's 30th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology of the American Meteorological Society, Dr. Eric Uhlhorn of NOAA's Hurricane Research Division presented a poster that looked at the relationship between surface winds measured by the SFMR instrument and flight-level winds in two Category 5 storms. Hurricane Hunter flights done into Category 5 Supertyphoon Megi (17 October 2010) and Category 5 Hurricane Felix (03 September 2007) found that the surface winds measured by SFMR were greater than those measured at flight level (10,000 feet.) Usually, surface winds in a hurricane are 10 - 15% less than at 10,000 feet, but he showed that in super-intense Category 5 storms with small eyes, the dynamics of these situations may generate surface winds that are as strong or stronger than those found at 10,000 feet. He extrapolated this statistical relationship (using the inertial stability measured at flight level) to Hurricane Wilma of 2005, which was the strongest hurricane on record (882 mb), but was not observed by the SFMR. He estimated that the maximum wind averaged around the eyewall in Wilma at peak intensity could have been 209 mph, plus or minus 20 mph--so conceivably as high as 229 mph, with gusts to 270 mph. Yowza. That's well in excess of the 200 mph minimum wind speed a top end EF-5 tornado has. The Joplin, Missouri EF-5 tornado of May 22, 2011 had winds estimated at 225 - 250 mph. That tornado ripped pavement from the ground, leveled buildings to the concrete slabs they were built on, and killed 161 people. It's not a pretty thought to consider what Wilma would have done to Cancun, Key West, or Fort Myers had the hurricane hit with sustained winds of what the Joplin tornado had.


Figure 1. Hurricane Wilma's pinhole eye as seen at 8:22 a.m. CDT Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2005, by the crew aboard NASA's international space station as the complex flew 222 miles above the storm. At the time, Wilma was the strongest Atlantic hurricane in history, with a central pressure of 882 mb and sustained surface winds estimated at 185 mph. The storm was located in the Caribbean Sea, 340 miles southeast of Cozumel, Mexico. Image source: NASA's Space Photo Gallery.


Figure 2. Damage in Joplin, Missouri after the EF-5 tornado of May 22, 2011. Image credit: wunderphotographer thebige.

Official all-time strongest winds in an Atlantic hurricane: 190 mph
The official record for strongest winds in an Atlantic hurricane is 190 mph, for Hurricane Allen of 1980 as it was entering the Gulf of Mexico, and for Hurricane Camille of 1969, as it was making landfall in Pass Christian, Mississippi. In Dr. Bob Sheets' and Jack Williams' book, Hurricane Watch, they recount the Hurricane Hunters flight into Camile as the hurricane reached peak intensity: On Sunday afternoon, August 17, and Air Force C-130 piloted by Marvin Little penetrated Camille's eye and measured a pressure of 26.62 inches of mercury. "Just as we were nearing the eyewall cloud we suddenly broke into a clear area and could see the sea surface below," the copilot, Robert Lee Clark, wrote in 1982. "What a sight! Although everyone on the crew was experienced except me, no one had seen the wind whip the sea like that before...Instead of the green and white splotches normally found in a storm, the sea surface was in deep furrows running along the wind direction....The velocity was beyond the descriptions used in our training and far beyond anything we had ever seen." So, the 190 mph winds of Camille were an estimate that was off the scale from anything that had ever been observed in the past. The books that the Hurricane Hunters carried, filled with photos of the sea state at various wind speeds, only goes up to 150 mph (Figure 2). I still used this book to estimate surface winds when I flew with the Hurricane Hunters in the late 1980s, and the books are still carried on the planes today. In the two Category 5 hurricanes I flew into, Hugo and Gilbert, I never observed the furrowing effect referred to above. Gilbert had surface winds estimated at 175 mph based on what we measured at flight level, so I believe the 190 mph wind estimate in Camille may be reasonable.


Figure 3. Appearance of the sea surface in winds of 130 knots (150 mph). Image credit: Wind Estimations from Aerial Observations of Sea Conditions (1954), by Charlie Neumann.


Figure 4. Radar image of Hurricane Camille taken at 22:15 UTC August 17, 1969, a few hours before landfall in Mississippi. At the time, Camille had the highest sustained winds of any Atlantic hurricane in history--190 mph.

The infamous hurricane hunter flight into Wilma during its rapid intensification
While I was at last week's conference, I had a conversation with Rich Henning, a flight meteorologist for NOAA's Hurricane Hunters, who served for many years as a Air Reconnaissance Weather Officer (ARWO) for the Air Force Hurricane Hunters. Rich told me the story of the Air Force Hurricane Hunter mission into Hurricane Wilma in the early morning hours of October 19, 2005, as Wilma entered its explosive deepening phase. The previous airplane, which had departed Category 1 Wilma six hours previously, flew through Wilma at an altitude of 5,000 feet. They measured a central pressure of 954 mb when they departed the eye at 23:10 UTC. The crew of the new plane assumed that the hurricane, though intensifying, was probably not a major hurricane, and decided that they would also go in at 5,000 feet. Winds outside the eyewall were less than hurricane force, so this seemed like a reasonable assumption. Once the airplane hit the eyewall, they realized their mistake. Flight level winds quickly rose to 186 mph, far in excess of Category 5 strength, and severe turbulence rocked the aircraft. The aircraft was keeping a constant pressure altitude to maintain their height above the ocean during the penetration, but the area of low pressure at Wilma's center was so intense that the airplane descended at over 1,000 feet per minute during the penetration in order to maintain a constant pressure altitude. By they time they punched into the incredibly tiny 4-mile wide eye, which had a central pressure of just 901 mb at 04:32 UTC, the plane was at a dangerously low altitude of 1,500 feet--not a good idea in a Category 5 hurricane. The pilot ordered an immediate climb, and the plane exited the other side of Wilma's eyewall at an altitude of 10,000 feet. They maintained this altitude for the remainder of the flight. During their next pass through the eye at 06:11 UTC, the diameter of the eye had shrunk to an incredibly tiny two miles--the smallest hurricane eye ever measured. During their third and final pass through the eye at 0801 UTC, a dropsonde found a central pressure of 882 mb--the lowest pressure ever observed in an Atlantic hurricane. In the span of just 24 hours, Wilma had intensified from a 70 mph tropical storm to a 175 mph category 5 hurricane--an unprecedented event for an Atlantic hurricane. Since the pressure was still falling, it is likely that Wilma became even stronger after the mission departed.

I'll have a new post by Tuesday at the latest.

Jeff Masters

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1231. hydrus
4 day map looks like summer..
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22294
1230. hydrus
Quoting nigel20:

We dont't usually get school breaks in Jamaica unless there is extreme rainfall...we had about three days break in TS Nicole and the damage was so bad in Gilbert that most schools remained closed for an entire semester
Gilbert was a monster. I am glad it was not at cat-5 status when it ran right down the backbone of the country.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22294
1229. nigel20
Quoting BahaHurican:
Guess the weather has been bad enough for the Ministry of Education to call off school.... the equivalent of a snow day for pple living points north....

The problem isn't so much that it will likely be raining again tomorrow so much as that the roads that thousands of children walk to school will be waterlogged.

I am sure parents LOVE this.... lol... they don't get the day off.

We dont't usually get school breaks in Jamaica unless there is extreme rainfall...we had about three days break in TS Nicole and the damage was so bad in Gilbert that most schools remained closed for an entire semester
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1228. hydrus
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
TOTAL STORMS 11 TO 14
TOTAL HURRICANES 6 TO 9
TOTAL MAJORS 3 TO 5
TOTAL CAT 5's 0 TO 2
interesting. I,d say you do not think El-Niner,s gonna be here in time to smother things a bit...
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22294
I have wondered what they use when the road wasn't paved to begin with.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22682
Quoting guygee:
The observation of "ripped pavement from the ground" is very subjective. Obviously there will be a big difference in the strength of pavement depending on whether it is a country road with a relatively thin layer of pavement on a gravel bed, compared to a city road many times paved over underlaid by brick or the pavement of an interstate highway. Using the observation of "ripped pavement from the ground" to determine the strength of a tornado is not very useful and prone to error.

Still, it takes a very powerful tornado to rip it out of the ground. Typically indicative of an EF4 or EF5 tornado.
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Guess the weather has been bad enough for the Ministry of Education to call off school.... the equivalent of a snow day for pple living points north....

The problem isn't so much that it will likely be raining again tomorrow so much as that the roads that thousands of children walk to school will be waterlogged.

I am sure parents LOVE this.... lol... they don't get the day off.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22682
1160 GeorgiaStormz [inre 1156] : According to the Elements of Style, required in my curriculum, it is perfectly fine to deviate from standard grammar rules to better express your meaning.
The problem comes when the deviation is in no way necessary or even beneficial.


The very real problems arise from having lackwits compose and/or grade the English proficiency sections of the IQ, GED, SAT, college application essays, CLEP, employment exams, etc. It's especially bad when those tests are machine-graded without any followup questioning by well-trained humans.
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1223. nigel20
Quoting BahaHurican:
BTW, 3+ inches here today per our local news station.

If you short on rain, then 3 inches would be good
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Quoting nigel20:

I don't think you would get too many minuses


What a nice thought. So far I am +1 and -0 but who knows as I have no count now and it doesn't show for anyone as far as that goes. Maybe it will return on its own. I should look at the settings and see if there is anything there that I could have changed.
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1221. nigel20
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Jeez, I had to read back a whole page (200 posts).

Must be hurricane season...right?

It's only a month away, so bloggers are getting excited
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1220. hydrus
I thought this was interesting. In 1894, strong winds in Nebraska pushed six fully loaded coal cars over 160 kilometers in just over three hours.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22294
1219. nigel20
Quoting PedleyCA:


Well, it must be that I am unworthy of that information. I logged off and logged back on and no change. Well, then I am protected from people going off on me then. If it don't work they can't minus me too many times, lol

I don't think you would get too many minuses
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BTW, 3+ inches here today per our local news station.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22682
1217. bappit
What's the source of that tornado pic?
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Jeez, I had to read back a whole page (200 posts).

Must be hurricane season...right?
Getting there.... only 2 weeks to EPac, and 30 days from now we'll be ready for ATL opening day....
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22682
1215. guygee
The observation of "ripped pavement from the ground" is very subjective. Obviously there will be a big difference in the strength of pavement depending on whether it is a country road with a relatively thin layer of pavement on a gravel bed, compared to a city road many times paved over underlaid by brick or the pavement of an interstate highway. Using the observation of "ripped pavement from the ground" to determine the strength of a tornado is not very useful and prone to error.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
This was the tornado produced by that storm in western Texas last night.

I usually don't bash, but the NWS really dropped the ball on this yesterday. It had a good radar signature and even after a tornado was reported, the severe thunderstorm warning was never upgraded to a tornado warning.



i thought they did i still dont think the first image you posted of the inbound/outbound wind was a tornado
Member Since: June 17, 2011 Posts: 11 Comments: 6539
1213. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
TOTAL STORMS 11 TO 14
TOTAL HURRICANES 6 TO 9
TOTAL MAJORS 3 TO 5
TOTAL CAT 5's 0 TO 2
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1212. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Jeez, I had to read back a whole page (200 posts).

Must be hurricane season...right?
well it is 32 days away things pick up from here on out till jun 1 on the blog lots of people will be showing up over the next 4 weeks or so
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This was the tornado produced by that storm in western Texas last night.

I usually don't bash, but the NWS really dropped the ball on this yesterday. It had a good radar signature and even after a tornado was reported, the severe thunderstorm warning was never upgraded to a tornado warning.

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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
If I can get the gumption up and dig up the pictures, I’ll show you what Wilma did to my house. Changed my life forever.
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11517
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11517
Jeez, I had to read back a whole page (200 posts).

Must be hurricane season...right?
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1207. hydrus
Quoting BahaHurican:
Also I'm rethinking Wilma's pinhole eye in the tornado context, and realizing that a tornado 2 miles wide is about the size of Wilma's eye at that point.

It's a real good thing Wilma was being her bad self all by her lonesome out there in the CAR....
Amen. I believe that it was fortunate no recon flight inside Wilma at peak strength. The trip may have ended differently.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22294
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
still on my screen


Well, it must be that I am unworthy of that information. I logged off and logged back on and no change. Well, then I am protected from people going off on me then. If it don't work they can't minus me too many times, lol
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1205. nigel20
Hurricane Ivan had a ocean wave of 91ft with 160mph, so winds of 300mph would likely cause well in excess of 100ft
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1204. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
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Quoting BahaHurican:
I don't want to be anywhere around when they start forecasting hurricanes to make landfall with winds in excess of 200 mph....


California is a good place or Western Canada. rotflmao
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1202. nigel20
Quoting trHUrrIXC5MMX:



how about 345 ?

That would destroy steel reinforce contrete buildings
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Also I'm rethinking Wilma's pinhole eye in the tornado context, and realizing that a tornado 2 miles wide is about the size of Wilma's eye at that point.

It's a real good thing Wilma was being her bad self all by her lonesome out there in the CAR....
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22682
1200. nigel20
Quoting PedleyCA:


Where did the +'s and -'s go to? Did the Admins take them and take the day off as well.

I'm still seeing them as well pedley
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Quoting trHUrrIXC5MMX:



how about 345 ?


THE END OF THE DAYS!!!!
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Quoting BahaHurican:
I don't want to be anywhere around when they start forecasting hurricanes to make landfall with winds in excess of 200 mph....



how about 345 ?
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I don't want to be anywhere around when they start forecasting hurricanes to make landfall with winds in excess of 200 mph....
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22682
Quoting CybrTeddy:


What? Only on the ''B'' Storm by August 24th? Bust season.


No, after that they change Chris to Chuck Norris...500mph
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Quoting PedleyCA:


Only need 2 when one of them is that one.


absolutely!
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1194. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting PedleyCA:


Where did the +'s and -'s go to? Did the Admins take them and take the day off as well.
still on my screen
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Quoting hydrus:
Thats like a giant F-7...Wave heights 115 to 130 ft with storm surge of 80 to 90 ft..Always be sure to secure loose objects such as the concrete slab your house sits on to something sturdy like a moderately good sized mountain.


sort of like a hurricane-tsunami
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
lol


Where did the +'s and -'s go to? Did the Admins take them and take the day off as well.
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1191. nigel20
Quoting ncstorm:


We got over 20 inches from Ex Nicole at that time..I remember Cantore waiting in Florida on TWC for TS Nicole at the time and it barely even rained but when it got to us, oh boy!

We had so much rain from Nicole...it was almost unbelievable
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1190. nigel20
Quoting hydrus:
Thats like a giant F-7...Wave heights 115 to 130 ft with storm surge of 80 to 90 ft..Always be sure to secure loose objects such as the concrete slab your house sits on to something sturdy like a moderately good sized mountain.

I thought Ivan had wave heights in the region of 130ft or am I mistaken
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1189. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting CybrTeddy:


What? Only on the ''B'' Storm by August 24th? Bust season.
lol
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Quoting CybrTeddy:


What? Only on the ''B'' Storm by August 24th? Bust season.


Only need 2 when one of them is that one.
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Quoting trHUrrIXC5MMX:
how about this craziness...

NHC BULLETIN
HURRICANE BERYL ADVISORY NUMBER 12
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL AL092011
1100 AM AST SUN AUG 24 2012

...BERYL STRENGTHENS TO 345 MPH... BREAKING ALL CYCLONE RECORDS FOR FOR THE ERA... THIS IS A VERY SERIOUS PHENOMENON MAKING HISTORY


SUMMARY OF 1100 AM AST...0600 UTC...INFORMATION
----------------------------------------------
LOCATION...16.0N 60.4W
ABOUT 75 MI...125 KM ESE OF GUADELOUPE
ABOUT 120 MI...195 KM SE OF ANTIGUA
MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS...345 MPH...300 KT
PRESENT MOVEMENT...W OR 280 DEGREES AT 12 MPH...8 KM/H
MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE...754 MB


What? Only on the ''B'' Storm by August 24th? Bust season.
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Quoting hydrus:
Thats like a giant F-7...Wave heights 115 to 130 ft with storm surge of 80 to 90 ft..Always be sure to secure loose objects such as the concrete slab your house sits on to something sturdy like a moderately good sized mountain.


DOOM
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1185. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting hydrus:
Thats like a giant F-7...Wave heights 115 to 130 ft with storm surge of 80 to 90 ft..Always be sure to secure loose objects such as the concrete slab your house sits on to something sturdy like a moderately good sized mountain.
there would be nothing left the surface of impact would be stripped right down to solid rock
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1183. hydrus
Quoting trHUrrIXC5MMX:
how about this craziness...

NHC BULLETIN
HURRICANE BERYL ADVISORY NUMBER 12
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL AL092011
1100 AM AST SUN AUG 24 2012

...BERYL STRENGTHENS TO 345 MPH... BREAKING ALL CYCLONE RECORDS FOR FOR THE ERA... THIS IS A VERY SERIOUS PHENOMENON MAKING HISTORY


SUMMARY OF 1100 AM AST...0600 UTC...INFORMATION
----------------------------------------------
LOCATION...16.0N 60.4W
ABOUT 75 MI...125 KM ESE OF GUADELOUPE
ABOUT 120 MI...195 KM SE OF ANTIGUA
MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS...345 MPH...300 KT
PRESENT MOVEMENT...W OR 280 DEGREES AT 12 MPH...8 KM/H
MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE...754 MB
Thats like a giant F-7...Wave heights 115 to 130 ft with storm surge of 80 to 90 ft..Always be sure to secure loose objects such as the concrete slab your house sits on to something sturdy like a moderately good sized mountain.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 22294
Quoting afj3:
THE GFS MODEL REMAINS THE MOST AGGRESSIVE IN
DEVELOPING A WEAK SURFACE LOW ACROSS WESTERN CUBA ON THE
SOUTHWESTERN PERIPHERY OF THE RIDGE THAT EVENTUALLY WEAKENS AND
DISSIPATES ACROSS THE NW GULF WATERS.

Which eventually weakens and dissipates... the ridge or the weak low?
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Quoting GeorgiaStormz:


that is a typo, not no grammar error.
and my schoolings is good, i is homeschooled

:)

There, that is about the worst grammar i can think of.


Yes it was quite correct. But you had to mentally punctuate it.
Not sure if it supposed to have some or not. English was not one of my good subjects. Went more for Euro History and Auto Shop and Electronics.
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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