List of Category 5 Pacific hurricanes

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Tracks of all Category 5 Pacific hurricanes east of the International Dateline.

Category 5 hurricanes are tropical cyclones that reach Category 5 intensity on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. They are by definition the strongest hurricanes that can form on planet Earth. They are rare in the eastern Pacific Ocean and generally form only once every several years. In general, Category 5s form in clusters in single years. Landfalls by such storms are rare due to the generally westerly path of tropical cyclones in the northern hemisphere.

The term "hurricane" is used for tropical cyclones in the Pacific Ocean, north of the equator and east of the international date line. A Category 5 Pacific hurricane is therefore a tropical cyclone in the north Pacific Ocean that reached Category 5 intensity east of the international dateline. Identical phenomena in the north Pacific Ocean west of the dateline are called "typhoons" or "super typhoons". Category 5 super typhoons generally happen several times per season, so cyclones of that intensity are not exceptional for that region. This difference in terminology therefore excludes storms such as Super Typhoon Paka and Super Typhoon Oliwa of 1997, which formed east of the dateline but did not reach Category 5 intensity until after crossing the dateline.


Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale
TD TS C1 C2 C3 C4 C5

A Category 5 hurricane is defined as having sustained windspeeds of greater than 137 knots (158 mph; 254 km/h) over a one-minute period 10 metres (33 ft) above the ground.[1][2] As a tropical cyclone is moving, its wind field is asymmetric. In the northern hemisphere, the strongest winds are on the right side of the storm (relative to the direction of motion). The highest winds given in advisories are those from the right side.[3]

Between the 1959 and 2014 seasons inclusive, only 15 hurricanes have reached and were recorded as a Category 5. There are no known Category 5 storms occurring before 1959. It is possible that some earlier storms reached Category 5 over open waters, but they were never recognized because they never affected land and remained at sea.[4]

Category 5 Pacific hurricanes[edit]

Hurricane Linda at its record peak intensity on September 12, 1997.

This lists all of the Category 5 hurricanes in the order in which they formed. Only 1994's Hurricane Emilia and 2006's Hurricane Ioke have reached Category 5 intensity more than once; that is, by weakening into a Category 4 or weaker storm and later re-strengthening to a Category 5 storm.

Before the advent of reliable geostationary satellite coverage in 1966, the number of eastern Pacific tropical cyclones was significantly underestimated.[5] It is therefore very possible that there are additional Category 5s other than those listed, but they were not reported and therefore not recognized. However, the lack of Pacific Category 5's during the late 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, is certain.[4]

The minimum central pressure of these storms is, for the most part, estimated from satellite imagery using the Dvorak technique. In the case of Kenna[6] and Ava,[7] the central pressure was measured by hurricane hunter aircraft flying into the storm. In the case of the 1959 Mexico hurricane, the best central pressure reading was measured after landfall.[4] Because of the estimation of central pressures, it is possible that other storms more intense than these have formed.[8]

The reason for estimating the pressure is the fact that most of these storms did not threaten land.[9] As Kenna was threatening land, its pressure was measured by a dropsonde.[6] Hurricane Ava never threatened land.[4] However, it was flown into via Hurricane Hunter to test equipment and conduct research.[7]

Older storms have incomplete pressure readings, since they were never estimated and only taken by ships, land-based observations, or recon aircraft when available. Ava's minimum known pressure was measured when it was a Category 4, for example.[4] John and Gilma have incomplete pressures because the Central Pacific Hurricane Center, in general, did not publish pressure on systems in the central Pacific (140°W to the dateline) at the time.[10] However, it should be noted that this list is not identical to the list of most intense Pacific hurricanes. The most intense known Category 4 storm in the eastern Pacific was 2014's Odile. The lowest pressure of this storm was 918 millibars, lower than that of some category 5's, such as Emilia.[4]

Hurricanes have reached Category 5 intensity during every month from June to October. The earliest Category 5 has formed in a season is June 7, by 1973's Hurricane Ava. The latest Category 5 to form in a season is the 1959 Mexico hurricane, which reached peak intensity on October 27. Hurricanes Ava, Gilma, Marie, Linda, and Rick are the most intense storms to form in their respective months. There have been no May, November, or off-season Category 5s.[4]

Two Pacific hurricanes are known to have reached Category 5 intensity multiple times: Emilia and Ioke. Both did it twice, and Ioke reached Category 5 status a third time as a typhoon while in the Western Pacific.[4] Hurricane Ioke was tied for the longest-lasting Category 5 hurricane recorded, spending 42 hours at that strength,[11] while hurricanes John and Linda had the longest time spent consecutively at that intensity.[4]

Hurricane Hernan off the coast of Mexico on September 1, 2002, at peak strength.
Microwave radar in the tail of a C130 during a flight into Hurricane Ava.
List of Category 5 Pacific hurricanes[4]
Season Dates as a
Category 5
Time as a
Category 5 (hours)
Peak one-minute
sustained winds
mph km/h hPa inHg
Patsy 1959 September 6 6 160 260 Unknown
"Mexico" 1959 October 27 12 160 260 7002958000000000000958 700295800000000000028.29
Ava 1973 June 7 24 160 260 7002915000000000000915 700291500000000000027.02
Emilia 1994 July 19–21 18 160 260 7002926000000000000926 700292600000000000027.34
Gilma 1994 July 24–25 18 160 260 7002920000000000000920 700292000000000000027.17
John 1994 August 22–24 42 175 280 7002929000000000000929 700292900000000000027.43
Guillermo 1997 August 4–5 24 160 260 7002919000000000000919 700291900000000000027.14
Linda 1997 September 12–14 42 185 295 7002902000000000000902 700290200000000000026.64
Elida 2002 July 25 6 160 260 7002921000000000000921 700292100000000000027.20
Hernan 2002 September 1 12 160 260 7002921000000000000921 700292100000000000027.20
Kenna 2002 October 24 18 165 270 7002913000000000000913 700291300000000000026.96
Ioke 2006 August 24–26 42 160 260 7002915000000000000915 700291500000000000027.02
Rick 2009 October 18 24 180 280 7002906000000000000906 700290600000000000026.75
Celia 2010 June 25 12 160 260 7002921000000000000921 700292100000000000027.20
Marie 2014 August 24 6 160 260 7002918000000000000918 700291800000000000027.11
† For its first time as a Category 5, Emilia was at that intensity for 6 hours; the second time was for 12 for a total of 18 hours.[12]

‡ For its first time as a Category 5, Ioke was at that intensity for 18 hours; the second time was 24 additional hours east of the dateline, giving a total of 42 hours.[4] Ioke did not lose Category 5 status on August 26, however, it moved into the Western North Pacific, and thus was no longer considered a hurricane, but rather a typhoon.


Hurricane Guillermo, the first of two Category 5's during the 1997 season.

In the eastern Pacific, Category 5 hurricanes usually occur only in El Niño years. During El Niño years, conditions are more favorable for tropical cyclones because of warmer sea surface temperatures and reduced wind shear. This is why Category 5's cluster in single seasons. The effects of El Niño are most significant in the central Pacific (140°W to the dateline).[13]

The general lack of Category 5's in non warm-ENSO years is because of there being limited space for development. The prevailing ocean currents of the area carry warm water to the west. As there is no large piece of land to block the water and cause it to "pile up" like in the Atlantic, the area suitable for all tropical cyclones is small. Farther out to sea, while waters are still warm, wind shear limits the development of tropical cyclones in the waters south of Hawaii. This makes an otherwise ideal region unfavorable for tropical cyclones.

This does not mean that a Category 5 cannot form outside of an El Niño event. The entire year of 1959 was neither an El Niño or a La Niña, but had two Category 5's (Patsy and the Mexico Hurricane) and was the deadliest Pacific hurricane season ever recorded in history. Most of 1973 was during a La Niña, which reduces tropical cyclone activity in the eastern Pacific, yet Hurricane Ava, a category 5 hurricane, formed in June of that year.[14] The 2009 season and the 2010 season are the only two seasons in which a Category 5 hurricane formed in consecutive years (Rick and Celia, respectively).[15]


Hurricane Kenna, one of only three Category 5 Pacific hurricanes to make landfall at any intensity.

Of all of the Category 5 Pacific hurricanes, the only ones to make landfall at any intensity were the 1959 Mexico hurricane, Hurricane Kenna, and Hurricane Rick. The 1959 hurricane was the only one to make landfall as a Category 5, Kenna had weakened to a Category 4 at the time of its landfall, and Rick was a tropical storm at its landfall. The Mexico Hurricane and Kenna are the strongest and third strongest landfalls by east Pacific tropical cyclones, respectively—the second strongest was 1976's Hurricane Madeline, which didn't reach Category 5 strength, but made landfall as a stronger Category 4 storm than Kenna.[6]

In addition to these three systems, Hurricanes John, Linda, and Ioke all threatened land for a while. John and Ioke had minimal impact on Johnston Atoll and John caused heavy surf in Hawaii.[12] Linda was briefly forecast to approach southern California, and it passed close to Socorro Island near peak intensity.[11][16]

The reason for the lack of landfalls is that tropical cyclones in the northern hemisphere usually travel to the west.[17] In the Atlantic, this sends hurricanes towards North America. In the eastern Pacific, this sends tropical cyclones out into the open ocean to dissipate over waters too cool to support them or in environments with high wind shear. Hawaii, the only heavily populated island chain in the eastern Pacific, is protected from most hurricanes by a subtropical ridge and is small enough to avoid being hit simply due to low odds.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale". National Hurricane Center. 2007-08-17. Retrieved 2008-09-14. 
  2. ^ Chris Landsea. "Subject: D4) What does "maximum sustained wind" mean ? How does it relate to gusts in tropical cyclones?". FAQ: Hurricane, Typhoons, and Tropical Cyclones. Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory Hurricane Research Division. Retrieved 2006-01-04. 
  3. ^ Chris Landsea. "Subject: D4) What does "maximum sustained wind" mean ? How does it relate to gusts in tropical cyclones?". FAQ: Hurricane, Typhoons, and Tropical Cyclones. Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory Hurricane Research Division. Retrieved 2006-01-04. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Eastern North Pacific Tracks File 1949-2007" (plaintext). National Hurricane Center. 2008-03-21. Archived from the original on 2008-08-22. Retrieved 2008-09-14. 
  5. ^ Chris Landsea (2002-06-11). "Subject: E10) What are the average, most, and least tropical cyclones occurring in each basin?". FAQ: Hurricane, Typhoons, and Tropical Cyclones. Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory Hurricane Research Division. Retrieved 2006-01-04. 
  6. ^ a b c James Franklin (2002-12-26). "Tropical Cyclone Report Hurricane Kenna". National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 2008-09-14. 
  7. ^ a b F.J. Hoelzl (1973-06-06). "wea01151, NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS) Collection". NOAA Photo Library. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 2008-09-14. 
  8. ^ Max Mayfield (1997-10-02). "Preliminary Report Hurricane Guillermo". National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 2008-09-16. 
  9. ^ Neal Dorst. "Subject: H2) Who are the "Hurricane Hunters" and what are they looking for?". FAQ: Hurricane, Typhoons, and Tropical Cyclones. Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory Hurricane Research Division. Retrieved 2006-01-04. 
  10. ^ Jim Gross (1989-08-30). "Preliminary Report Hurricane Dalilia" (GIF). National Hurricane Center. p. 3. Retrieved 2006-01-04. 
  11. ^ a b Andy Nash, Tim Craig, Sam Houston, Roy Matsuda, Jeff Powell, Ray Tanabe, & Jim Weyman. "2006 Tropical Cyclones Central North Pacific". Central Pacific Hurricane Center. Retrieved 2008-09-14. 
  12. ^ a b "The 1994 Central Pacific Tropical Cyclone Season". Central Pacific Hurricane Center. Retrieved 2008-09-14. 
  13. ^ Chris Landsea. "Subject: G2) How does El Niño-Southern Oscillation affect tropical cyclone activity around the globe?". FAQ: Hurricane, Typhoons, and Tropical Cyclones. Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory Hurricane Research Division. Retrieved 2006-01-04. 
  14. ^ "Cold and Warm Episodes by Season". Climate Prediction Center. Retrieved 2006-01-04. 
  15. ^ National Hurricane Center; Hurricane Research Division; Central Pacific Hurricane Center (July 7, 2014). "The Northeast and North Central Pacific hurricane database 1949–2013". United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service. Retrieved July 10, 2014.  A guide on how to read the database is available here.
  16. ^ Max Mayfield (1997-10-25). "Preliminary Report Hurricane Linda". National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 2006-01-04. 
  17. ^ Chris Landsea. "Subject: G8) Why do hurricanes hit the East coast of the U.S., but never the West coast?". FAQ: Hurricane, Typhoons, and Tropical Cyclones. Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory Hurricane Research Division. Retrieved 2008-09-14.