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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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Here are some of the best pictures a stormchaser friend of mine took during last year's tornado season.

Just thought I would share.












very nice, especially the 4th one with the lightning
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 7462
This might actually be a threat to develop if it had model support and lower shear. Almost has that 'look' to it.
Link
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23012
Quoting hydrus:
Good morning Baha..I noticed on the sat pic that this system is getting larger. Judging by your post, it probably feels like something sub-tropical or tropical brewing..
Going on air temps alone, I'd guess sub-tropical. Despite the fact that most of this moisture is coming up from the south, the air temps are still pretty cool. It doesn't have that smotheringly humid heat feeling to it that I associate with tropical origens.

But we shall see.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 20724
Quoting nigel20:
Good morning all!


Good morning Nigel...did you see the disturbance in the Florida Straits?!

I messed up early this morning by calling it off for tropical development. Now I am planning to write a special update shortly to "eat some of my words."

Does anyone know if this is Invest 92-L? Someone had referred it to as an "invested trough" but I don't see it on the Navy NRL site...
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The MDR should warm steadily as the NAO seems to be going negative
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 7462
Here are some of the best pictures a stormchaser friend of mine took during last year's tornado season.

Just thought I would share.











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Good morning all!
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 9 Comments: 7462
Quoting Thrawst:


Already 2.02 inches in Nassau this morning. It is getting annoying... I wanna go to the beach and play tennis, man. -_-

Nassau Weather Station


Isn't it hard running in the sand?
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Quoting Seflhurricane:
put the radar in composite and look to the large rain shield between Marathon and key largo see the spin , and the rain is intensifing over Miami dade county



It sure is.

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Long way out, but if it were to pan out, could be a potent system..
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 19527
Does everyone realize how good the GFS and European were on this blob of convection 10 days ago?

It's only off by about 100 miles to the west compared to the 10 day forecast...10 days ago.
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Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 19527
Quoting FLWeatherFreak91:
I hope a hurricane hits Tampa during the RNC. I don't really want hundreds of thousands of extra people in my city
So u want them STUCK in ur city????

I really wouldn't be wishing for a hurricane at any time in Tampa. There's a lot more of Tampa to flood than there was the last time it got a direct hit.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 20724
Quoting Grothar:


When is the last time we saw something like this?
OK, you all know the drill. If you want to see this image animated, shake your PC's or rock back and forth in your chair.




Already 2.02 inches in Nassau this morning. It is getting annoying... I wanna go to the beach and play tennis, man. -_-

Nassau Weather Station
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Quoting Seflhurricane:
looking at the NWS radar out of miami there appears to be a low forming just South east of key largo


I see it too! I am watching to see if surface wind directions begin to respond. Back with Invest 90-L in February one could see multiple spins on Miami radar...but they were all mid-level and not at the surface.
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Quoting seflagamma:


Hi neighbor, they did cancel the Air Show for today.

we have overflow on our pool also but the ground is saturated and it came down so fast.

have not seen Spring rain like this in years.


When is the last time we saw something like this?
OK, you all know the drill. If you want to see this image animated, shake your PC's or rock back and forth in your chair.


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put the radar in composite and look to the large rain shield between Marathon and key largo see the spin , and the rain is intensifing over Miami dade county
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Quoting EugeneTillman:

Most government is cutting, Scott.
I have never understood how putting more people out of work is supposed to help the economy grow.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 20724
Quoting ncstorm:


the Euro/Nogaps/CMC has been showing this energy moving into the GOM..



Nogaps


CMC
Even the GFS in 84 hours has a low in the gulf...
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 19527
Several moderate earthquakes in Japan this morning... They had a 5.8 a few hours ago, followed shortly by a 4.6 and now a 5.6
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I was writing off this Caribbean disturbance (now a Florida Straits disturbance) in my 1 AM EDT tropical update this morning. I will now be writing a special brief update shortly.

I still don't see signs of the mid-upper trough dropping the surface pressures for tropical cyclone formation. I just checked and all surface pressures have been steady and are around 1017 mb in S FL. Winds are stiff in the easterly direction...so no signs of a surface spin at this time.
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looking at the NWS radar out of miami there appears to be a low forming just South east of key largo
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SFWMD real-time gauges since 8 AM, Broward getting most of the rain with bloggers from there reporting higher totals than shown here.


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Quoting hydrus:
Good morning Baha..I noticed on the sat pic that this system is getting larger. Judging by your post, it probably feels like something sub-tropical or tropical brewing..


the Euro/Nogaps/CMC has been showing this energy moving into the GOM..



Nogaps


CMC
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 13456
Took this pic of west side of my house about 30 mins ago.. it is above ankle deep..over 4" deep in low spots. The ground is saturate and this water is not going anywhere.


West side of house

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Quoting Grothar:


Hey, gamma. Looks like were are getting our old Spring rains back. We have overflows on our pool but the rain came down really heavy and it went over the top. I haven't seen that in years. I think they will have to cancel the Air Show today on the beach.


Hi neighbor, they did cancel the Air Show for today.

we have overflow on our pool also but the ground is saturated and it came down so fast.

have not seen Spring rain like this in years.
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Quoting pcola57:

Thats a fact but now under a unstoppable high influence...oh the days of summer heat r a commin'..sigh
Wont be too long now before the rain machine kicks in. The earliest I have seen it start in recent memory was in 1995 when things started rockin pretty good in mid-May.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 19527
Quoting VR46L:


Having been a long time lurker on here 2007 I only took up the courage to post on here in the last two months.. It is really difficult to be a new poster here as all new posters are dealt with by suspicion often accused of being trolls Flag ,report and ignore are advised by frequent bloggers of WU.I have only made a couple of comments on here and was accused of being uneducated and misunderstanding just because I had a different view point to the majority

On a personal note Grothar I always enjoy your posts they come across as kind warm and friendly
I guess I was lucky to come into the blog when I did. I had a cogent reason to post - ironically it was about the impacts of Wilma on Grand Bahama - and so I felt comfortable joining the discussion. Additionally at that time the blog was more low-key than it is now, meaning it wasn't as heavily trolled. This made it easier for a newbie to join in.

However, while we are sometimes overly snappish about newbies, we are mostly pretty decent to pple coming in to ask questions or to bring info from their local area. We're mostly glad to have new blood, if it's not troll blood.... lol

And no, we don't drink blood....
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 20724
Quoting hurricane23:


Mid level low moving north out of the carib and inversted trof over the bahamas will put the squeeze play across southern florida later today into the coming week. severe threat looks minimal.

edit..Believe the GFS model is suffering from convective feedback, but having said that, there's definitely a heavy rain signal..not only in the GFS model but others. So localized heavy rain is possible.


What...so we have Invest 92-L?!
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Quoting seflagamma:
This reminds me of TS Fay back in Aug 2008. this much rain so quickly.

had to dump my large rain gauge because it only holds 5" and it was past 4 already from this morning.

My other gauge I got from Rainman's weather supplies and it will hold 11" total..because of the over spill collection..


flood water in back yard is out of the pool standing above pool level.. streets are flooded and moving up into yards.

total of over 5.7" so far in 2 days of this system.


Hey, gamma. Looks like were are getting our old Spring rains back. We have overflows on our pool but the rain came down really heavy and it went over the top. I haven't seen that in years. I think they will have to cancel the Air Show today on the beach.
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
Round and round it goes...When it stops, nobody knows...




We got over 5" of rain last night and more on the way. How many did you get last night? It seems you are in for another round just about now?
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Quoting BahaHurican:
Morning all. We've gotten a couple more inches of rain overnight, most of it since midnight. Since this system doesn't seem to be going anywhere fast, we're likely to get another inch or two before it's all over.

I'm starting to wonder if this is going to hang around long enough for us to get some kind of tropical low out of it.

Good morning Baha..I noticed on the sat pic that this system is getting larger. Judging by your post, it probably feels like something sub-tropical or tropical brewing..
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 19527
I always figured Wilma's peak winds were probably under estimated.

After all, Camille's lowest central pressure was 24mb higher than Wilma, which is exactly as big as the difference between a minimum category 4 and a minimum category 5 hurricane.

So, intuitively, Wilma should have been the equivalent of a full category stronger than Camille, or about 215mph sustained.

Considering at peak intensity they were similar storms in terms of structure, I think it's a fair comparison.

Rita and Katrina had much larger eyes than Camille, which explains the lower wind speed in spite of having lower pressure.
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747. JRRP
need to watch this region next week for the first tropical wave

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Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 19527
Morning all. We've gotten a couple more inches of rain overnight, most of it since midnight. Since this system doesn't seem to be going anywhere fast, we're likely to get another inch or two before it's all over.

I'm starting to wonder if this is going to hang around long enough for us to get some kind of tropical low out of it.

Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 20724
Imma head outside enjoy it before it gets hot
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Ton of rain moving into sefla
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Round and round it goes...When it stops, nobody knows...

Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10578
.
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Quoting EugeneTillman:

Gotta love them.


very much so:) im the only kid in my school that likes them but thats okay!

Quoting EugeneTillman:

Then I give you much credit. You are a true fan, weatherh98. Just like us Texans are in Houston.



went to the saints texans game this year and the fans were all very nice!
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Cmc has it too?!
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Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:


what have you been studying for?
He is going to be a Meteorologist. Mornin VA..:)
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 19527



Well this is odd, A low has replaced the bermuda high, of course this is unlikely and a very long way out, I cant believe a model would show this.
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Quoting StormTracker2K:
I've been trying to tell people this coming and here it is. Some of the models are nearing 15" over the week in S FL. Here in C FL this is coming here as well but not until Tuesday. Some of the totals here in C FL by next Saturday will be in the 3" to 5" range. Also looking at the HPC map this morning you would think a Tropical Storm is coming as it has a bulls eye of 8.8" across S FL just for the next 5 days. Bottomline there will be NO ridge blocking this rain from FL next week as the rainy season may infact be starting as we type for. S FL then the rest of the state here in a few days. Also I can't post maps today as I am out and on my Iphone.


Easy there cowboy...That inverted trough is expected to eventually move well into the Gulf by mid-late next week while a ridge tries to reestablish itself across central/northern Florida and Georgia by then. But none since two days ago have been calling for this low to move directly up and over the Florida Peninsula(although the GFS appears to be an eastern outlier with the western-most flank across west-central Florida).

At best, I only can call for a stray afternoon of evening shower or thunderstorm Wed-Sat(20%). Otherwise the cape will be too strong. Now Lake Okeechobee southwards will be an entirely different story altogether!
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Quoting Patrap:
Coming from a Flor-idiot, well, we're not surprised at all.


..off to da JazzFest where they sure are a lot of them here.

But they have class.




Wanted to see zac brown band

oh well
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Cant you tell where the 26 C water is LOL
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About JeffMasters

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.