List of Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes

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Hurricane Isabel, as seen from the International Space Station in September 2003.

The list of Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes encompasses 33 tropical cyclones that reached Category 5 strength on the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale within the Atlantic Ocean (north of the equator), Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes of such intensity are somewhat infrequent in the Atlantic basin, occurring only once every three years on average. Landfalls by such storms are rare due to the generally northeastward path of tropical cyclones in the Northern Hemisphere's mid-latitudes. The Westerlies, winds blowing from west to east, tend to recurve strong hurricanes toward colder waters in the higher latitudes. However, large-scale easterly surface winds in the tropics may steer strong hurricanes into the Caribbean Sea toward land areas.

Only six times—in the 1932, 1933, 1960, 1961, 2005, and 2007 hurricane seasons—has more than one Category 5 hurricane formed. Only in 2005 have more than two Category 5 hurricanes formed, and only in 2007 has more than one made landfall at Category 5 strength.[1]


Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale
TD TS C1 C2 C3 C4 C5
Tracks of all known Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes between 1851 and 2010

A Category 5 hurricane has sustained winds greater than 136 knots (157 mph; 252 km/h). "Sustained winds" refers to the average wind speed observed over one minute at 10 metres (32 ft 9.7 in) above ground, which is the standard height windspeed is measured at to avoid interference by obstacles and obstructions. Brief gusts in hurricanes are typically up to 50 percent higher than sustained winds.[2] Because a hurricane is (usually) a moving system, the wind field is asymmetric, with the strongest winds on the right side (in the Northern Hemisphere), relative to the direction of motion. The highest winds given in advisories are those from the right side.[3]

Between 1924 and 2007, 35 hurricanes were recorded at Category 5 strength. No Category 5 hurricanes were observed officially before 1924. It can be presumed that earlier storms reached Category 5 strength over open waters, but the strongest winds were not measured. The anemometer, a device used for measuring wind speed, was invented in 1846. However, during major hurricane strikes the instruments as a whole were often blown away, leaving the hurricane′s peak intensity unrecorded. For example, as the Great Beaufort Hurricane of 1879 struck North Carolina, the anemometer cups were blown away when indicating 138 mph (222 km/h).[4]

A reanalysis of weather data is ongoing by researchers who may upgrade or downgrade other Atlantic hurricanes currently listed at Categories 4 and 5.[5] For example, the 1825 Santa Ana hurricane is suspected to have reached Category 5 strength.[6] Furthermore, paleotempestological research aims to identify past major hurricanes by comparing sedimentary evidence of recent and past hurricane strikes. For example, a “giant hurricane” significantly more powerful than Hurricane Hattie (Category 5) has been identified in Belizean sediment, having struck the region sometime before 1500.[7]

Officially, the decade with the most Category 5 hurricanes is 2000–2009, with eight Category 5 hurricanes having occurred: Isabel (2003), Ivan (2004), Emily (2005), Katrina (2005), Rita (2005), Wilma (2005), Dean (2007), and Felix (2007). The previous decades with the most Category 5 hurricanes were the 1930s and 1960s, with six occurring between 1930 and 1939 (before naming began) and again between 1960 and 1969. (Ethel, Donna, Carla, Hattie, Beulah, and Camille).[1]

Seven Atlantic hurricanes — Camille, Allen, Andrew, Isabel, Ivan, Dean and Felix—have reached Category 5 intensity on more than one occasion; that is, by reaching Category 5 intensity, weakening to a Category 4 or lower, and then becoming a Category 5 again. Such hurricanes have their dates shown together. However, no Atlantic hurricane has reached Category 5 intensity more than three times, as Allen, Isabel and Ivan each reached that intensity on three separate occasions. Camille, Andrew, Dean and Felix are the only other storms to have reached Category 5 on multiple occasions, each doing it twice. The November 1932 Cuba hurricane holds the record for most time spent as a Category 5 (although it took place before satellite or reconnaissance so the record may be somewhat suspect).[1][8]

The minimum pressure of the more recent systems was measured by recon aircraft using dropsondes, or by determining it from satellite imagery using the Dvorak technique. For older storms, pressures are often incomplete. The only readings came from ship reports, land observations, or aircraft reconnaissance. None of these methods can provide constant pressure measurements. Thus, sometimes the only measurement can be from when the hurricane was not a Category 5. Consequently, the lowest measurement is sometimes unrealistically high for a Category 5 hurricane.

These pressure values do not match up with the wind readings. This happens because the wind speed of a hurricane depends on both its size and how rapidly the pressure drops as the hurricane's center approaches. Thus, a hurricane in an environment of high ambient pressure will have stronger winds than a hurricane in an environment of low ambient pressure, even if they have identical central pressures.[9]

Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes[edit]

Hurricane Ivan as a Category 5
Hurricane Emily, the earliest Category 5 ever recorded within its own season
Season Dates as a
Category 5
Time as a
Category 5 (hours)
Peak one-minute
sustained winds
mph km/h hPa inHg
"Cuba" 1924 October 19 12 165 270 7002910000000000000910 700291000000000000026.87
San Felipe II-"Okeechobee" 1928 September 13–14 12 160 260 7002929000000000000929 700292900000000000027.43
"Bahamas" 1932 September 5–6 24 160 260 7002921000000000000921 700292100000000000027.20
"Cuba" 1932 November 5–8 78 175 280 7002915000000000000915 700291500000000000027.02
"Cuba–Brownsville" 1933 August 30 12 160 260 7002930000000000000930 700293000000000000027.46
"Tampico" 1933 September 21 12 160 260 7002929000000000000929 700292900000000000027.43
"Labor Day" 1935 September 3 18 185 295 7002892000000000000892 700289200000000000026.34
"New England" 1938 September 19–20 18 160 260 7002940000000000000940 700294000000000000027.76
Easy 1951 September 7–8 18 160 260 7002957000000000000957 700295700000000000028.26
Janet 1955 September 27–28 18 175 280 7002914000000000000914 700291400000000000027.0
Cleo 1958 August 16 6 160 260 7002948000000000000948 700294800000000000027.99
Donna 1960 September 4 12 160 260 7002930000000000000930 700293000000000000027.46
Ethel 1960 September 15 6 160 260 7002972000000000000972 700297200000000000028.70
Carla 1961 September 11 18 175 280 7002931000000000000931 700293100000000000027.49
Hattie 1961 October 30–31 18 160 260 7002920000000000000920 700292000000000000027.17
Beulah 1967 September 20 18 160 260 7002923000000000000923 700292300000000000027.26
Camille 1969 August 16–18† 30 175 280 7002900000000000000900 700290000000000000026.58
Edith 1971 September 9 6 160 260 7002943000000000000943 700294300000000000027.85
Anita 1977 September 2 12 175 280 7002926000000000000926 700292600000000000027.34
David 1979 August 30–31 42 175 280 7002924000000000000924 700292400000000000027.29
Allen 1980 August 5–9† 72 190 305 7002899000000000000899 700289900000000000026.55
Gilbert 1988 September 13–14 24 185 295 7002888000000000000888 700288800000000000026.22
Hugo 1989 September 15 6 160 260 7002918000000000000918 700291800000000000027.11
Andrew 1992 August 23–24† 16 175 280 7002922000000000000922 700292200000000000027.23
Mitch 1998 October 26–28 42 180 285 7002905000000000000905 700290500000000000026.72
Isabel 2003 September 11–14† 42 165 270 7002915000000000000915 700291500000000000027.02
Ivan 2004 September 9–14† 60 165 270 7002910000000000000910 700291000000000000026.87
Emily 2005 July 16 6 160 260 7002929000000000000929 700292900000000000027.43
Katrina 2005 August 28–29 18 175 280 7002902000000000000902 700290200000000000026.64
Rita 2005 September 21–22 24 180 285 7002895000000000000895 700289500000000000026.43
Wilma 2005 October 19 18 185 295 7002882000000000000882 700288200000000000026.05
Dean 2007 August 18–21† 24 175 280 7002905000000000000905 700290500000000000026.72
Felix 2007 September 3–4† 24 175 280 7002929000000000000929 700292900000000000027.43
Reference=[1] †= Attained Category 5 status more than once


An October Category 5 that hit Cuba in 1924

Thirty-three Category 5s have been recorded in the Atlantic basin since 1851, when records began. Only one Category 5 has been recorded in July, eight in August, eighteen in September, four in October, and one in November. There have been no officially recorded June or off-season Category 5 hurricanes.[1]

The July and August Category 5s reached their high intensities in both the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. These are the areas most favorable for tropical cyclone development in those months.[1][10]

September sees the most Category 5 hurricanes. This coincides with the climatological peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, which occurs in early September.[11] September Category 5s reached their strengths in any of the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and open Atlantic. These places are where September tropical cyclones are likely to form.[10] Many of these hurricanes are either Cape Verde-type storms, which develop their strength by having a great deal of open water; or so-called Bahama busters, which intensify over the warm Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico.[12]

All five Category 5s in October and November reached their intensities in the western Caribbean, a region that Atlantic hurricanes strongly gravitate toward late in the season.[10] This is due to the climatology of the area, which sometimes has a high-altitude anticyclone that promotes rapid intensification late in the season, as well as warm waters. Originally, there were only three Category 5s discovered in October, but reanalysis found out that a Hurricane in 1924 also reached that intensity during the month, so four Category 5s developed in October.[1]


Hurricane Camille, a landfalling Category 5

All Atlantic Category 5 hurricanes except Easy and Cleo (1958) have made landfall at some location at some strength. Most Category 5 hurricanes in the Atlantic make landfall because of their proximity to land in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, where the usual synoptic weather patterns carry them towards land, as opposed to the westward, oceanic mean track of Eastern Pacific hurricanes.[13] Thirteen of the storms made landfall while at Category 5 intensity;[1] 2007 is the only year in which two storms made landfall at this intensity.[1]

Many of these systems made landfall shortly after weakening from a Category 5. This weakening can be caused by dry air near land, shallower waters due to shelving, interaction with land, or cooler waters near shore.[14] In southern Florida, the return period for a Category 5 hurricane is roughly once every 50 years.[15]

The hurricanes are listed in chronological order with their landfalls indicated. Because they never made landfall, Hurricanes Easy and Cleo (1958) are not included.

The following table is based on the intensity at landfall, separated by category on the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale.

Name Year Category 5 Category 4 Category 3 Category 2 Category 1 Tropical storm
"Cuba" 1924 Cuba Florida The Bahamas
"Okeechobee" 1928 Puerto Rico Turks and Caicos Islands, The Bahamas & Florida South Carolina
"Bahamas" 1932 The Bahamas
"Cuba" 1932 Little Cayman, Cuba The Bahamas Martinique
"Cuba-Brownsville" 1933 The Bahamas Cuba & Texas
"Tampico" 1933 Yucatán Peninsula Mainland Mexico
"Labor Day" 1935 Florida Keys Northwest Florida The Bahamas
"New England" 1938 New York & Connecticut
Janet 1955 Yucatán Peninsula Mainland Mexico
Donna 1960 Bahamas & Florida North Carolina, New York & Connecticut
Ethel 1960 Mississippi
Carla 1961 Texas
Hattie 1961 Belize Mexico
Beulah 1967 Texas Yucatán Peninsula
Camille 1969 Mississippi Cuba
Edith 1971 Nicaragua Louisiana Belize & Mexico
Anita 1977 Mexico
David 1979 Dominican Republic Dominica Florida Cuba, Bahamas & Georgia
Allen 1980 Texas
Gilbert 1988 Yucatán Peninsula Jamaica & Mexico
Hugo 1989 Guadeloupe, Saint Croix,
and South Carolina
Puerto Rico
Andrew 1992 Eleuthera and Florida Berry Islands Louisiana
Mitch 1998 Honduras Mexico & Florida
Isabel 2003 North Carolina
Ivan 2004 Cayman Islands Jamaica Grenada & Alabama
Emily 2005 Yucatán Peninsula Mexico Grenada
Katrina 2005 Louisiana & Mississippi Florida
Rita 2005 Texas & Louisiana
Wilma 2005 Yucatán Peninsula Florida
Dean 2007 Yucatán Peninsula Veracruz
Felix 2007 Nicaragua Grenada

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i National Hurricane Center; Hurricane Research Division (April 1, 2014). "Atlantic hurricane best track (HURDAT version 2)". United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved March 28, 2015. 
  2. ^ Landsea, Christopher W. "Tropical Cyclone FAQ Subject: D4) What does "maximum sustained wind" mean? How does it relate to gusts in tropical cyclones?". Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 2006-03-16. 
  3. ^ Landsea, Christopher W. "Tropical Cyclone FAQ Subject: D6) Why are the strongest winds in a hurricane typically on the right side of the storm?". Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 2006-03-16. 
  4. ^ Hudgins, James E. (2000). "Tropical cyclones affecting North Carolina since 1586". National Weather Service Office Blacksburg, Virginia. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 2010-11-25. 
  5. ^ Staff writer (2010-06-08). "Re-analysis Project". Hurricane Research Division — Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Project. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 2010-11-30. 
  6. ^ Donnelly, J. P. (2005). "Evidence of Past Intense Tropical Cyclones from Backbarrier Salt Pond Sediments: A Case Study from Isla de Culebrita, Puerto Rico, USA". Journal of Coastal Research SI42: 201–210. ISSN 0749-0208. Retrieved 2010-11-26. 
  7. ^ Mccloskey, T; G Keller (2009). "5000 year sedimentary record of hurricane strikes on the central coast of Belize". Quaternary International 195 (1-2): 53–68. Bibcode:2009QuInt.195...53M. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2008.03.003. ISSN 1040-6182. Retrieved 2010-11-25. 
  8. ^ Rappaport, Edward N. "Addendum Hurricane Andrew". National Hurricane Center. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 
  9. ^ Landsea, Christopher W. "Tropical Cyclone FAQ Subject: D9) What causes each hurricane to have a different maximum wind speed for a given minimum sea-level pressure?". Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 2006-03-16. 
  10. ^ a b c Staff writer (2010). "Tropical Cyclone Climatology". National Hurricane Center. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 2010-11-30. 
  11. ^ Dorst, Neal (2010-06-10). "Tropical Cyclone FAQ G1) When is hurricane season ?". National Hurricane Center. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 2010-11-30. 
  12. ^ Landsea, Christopher W. (2010-06-08). "Tropical Cyclone FAQ A2) What is a "Cape Verde" hurricane?". Hurricane Research Division — Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 2010-11-30. 
  13. ^ Landsea, Christopher W (2010-06-08). "Tropical Cyclone FAQ G8) Why do hurricanes hit the East coast of the U.S., but never the West coast?". Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 2010-11-30. 
  14. ^ Knabb, Richard D.; Rhome, Jamie R.; Brown, Daniel P. (2005-12-20). "Tropical Cyclone Report Hurricane Katrina". National Hurricane Center. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. p. 4. Retrieved 30 November 2010. 
  15. ^ Landsea, Christopher W.; Franklin, James L.; McAdie, Colin J.; Beven, John L.; Gross, James M.; Jarvinen, Brian R.; Pasch, Richard J.; Rappaport, Edward N.; Dunion, Jason P.; Dodge, Peter P. (2004). "A Reanalysis of Hurricane Andrew's Intensity". Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 85 (11): 1699. Bibcode:2004BAMS...85.1699L. doi:10.1175/BAMS-85-11-1699. ISSN 0003-0007. Retrieved 2010-11-30. 

External links[edit]