Hurricanes are one of nature’s most powerful forces. With high winds, torrential rains and powerful storm surges, these storms often times leave a tragic path of death and destruction. The Atlantic hurricane season starts on on June 1 and goes through Nov. 30 each year. Hurricanes can strike anywhere along the U.S. Atlantic Seaboard, the Gulf of Mexico coast, Caribbean Sea islands and coasts.
By definition, a hurricane is a tropical storm with winds above 74 miles per hour (119 kilometers per hour). When ranking hurricanes by strength, the obvious choice is to compare wind speeds. But since measurements of the most extreme winds are difficult to obtain, we instead compare hurricanes by their lowest central pressure, a measure that has a strong relationship to wind speed. Below are the Top 5 strongest Atlantic Hurricanes ever recorded by their lowest central pressure – regardless of when the storm achieved this maximum strength – in the Atlantic Ocean.
5. Hurricane Allen – 1980
Hurricane Allen was a extremely powerful hurricane which struck the Caribbean, eastern and northern Mexico then southern Texas. The first named storm of the 1980 Atlantic hurricane season, it was one of the strongest hurricanes in recorded history and one of the few hurricanes to reach Category 5 status on the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale on three separate occasions. Allen is the only hurricane in the recorded history of the Atlantic basin to achieve sustained winds of 190 mph and bottomed out at 911 millibars.
4. Hurricane Rita – 2005
Hurricane Rita was the fourth–most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded and the most intense ever in the Gulf of Mexico. Rita was the eighteenth named storm of the record breaking 2005 Hurricane season. Rita formed near the Bahamas and moved westward, passing through the Florida Straits and then entered abnormally warm waters. It rapidly intensified to reach peak winds of 180 mph with central pressure 0f 895 millibars. After steadily weakening, Rita made landfall on Sabine Pass, Texas with winds of 120 mph.
3. Labor Day Hurricane – 1935
The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane was the strongest storm of the 1935 Atlantic hurricane season, and only storm known to make landfall in the US and anywhere in the Atlantic Basin with a minimum central pressure below 900 mbar. The maximum sustained wind speed at landfall is estimated to have been near 185 mph. The recorded central pressure was reported as 892 millibars. This was the record low pressure for a hurricane anywhere in the Western Hemisphere until 53 years later.
2. Hurricane Gilbert – 1988
Hurricane Gilbert was an extremely powerful storm that formed during the 1988 Atlantic hurricane season. Gilbert was also one of the largest tropical cyclones ever observed in the Atlantic basin. At one point, its tropical storm-force winds measured 588 miles in diameter. After becoming a tropical storm, Gilbert underwent a period of significant strengthening. It became a Hurricane on September 10 and further strengthened reaching a minimum pressure of 888 millibars with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph. Gilbert made landfall on the Mexican island of Cozumel on September 14 as a Category 5 hurricane.
1. Hurricane Wilma – 2005
Hurricane Wilma was the most intense Hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin. Part of the record breaking 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, Wilma formed in the Caribbean Sea near Jamaica on October 15, and intensified into a tropical storm two days later. After heading westward as a tropical depression, Wilma turned abruptly southward after becoming a tropical storm. It took several days for the system to become Hurricane Wilma over the northwest Caribbean, but not long after it did, an explosive and unprecedented period of strengthening occurred.
The pressure plummeted from 980 millibars on Oct. 18 to the Atlantic basin record of 882 millibars just 24 hours later with winds of 185 mph. Wilma weakened below Category 5 intensity on October 20 to 155 mph due to an eyewall replacement cycle. On October 21, Wilma made landfall on the island of Cozumel with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph. Wilma continued to slowly drift towards the north over the Yucatán Peninsula, although it weakened to a moderate hurricane while over land, it reemerged over the southern Gulf of Mexico on October 23. Despite Wilma spending 24 hours over land, it reemerged with little intensity lost, and began to re-intensify shortly after. Wilma raked eastward across South Florida, causing an estimated $21 billion in damage with 120mph winds.