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 CaribBoy:


What if 2012 is NOT below average...



I was asking the same myself but in any case we all know that even if only one storm forms, that storm can hit anywhere and do a lot of damage.
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Quoting hydrus:
"Eggo" brand Waffles while convenient are sub-marginal to a true waffle.


they are better than the waffles my mom makes, but i never tell her that.
I generally prefer commercially made foods to home made foods.
Engineering does make food taste better, even if it kills you.
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Well, I guess you are finally getting a bunch of rain. As usual if ya ask for some, it sometimes gets out of hand and you get copious.

Hunker down and keep that snorkel in one hand. Hang in there
Sensei.
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1128. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting CaribBoy:


What if 2012 is NOT below average...
then thry will be wrong

june outlooks are yet to come things may be adjusted upward slightly
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1127. nigel20
Quoting hydrus:
"Eggo" brand Waffles while convenient are sub-marginal to a true waffle.

Yum, delicioso
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 14 Comments: 8908
1126. Grothar
From Molasses Reef in the keys


Station MLRF1
NDBC
Location: 25.012N 80.376W
Date: Sun, 29 Apr 2012 21:00:00 UTC
Winds: E (90°) at 27.0 kt gusting to 31.1 ktAtmospheric Pressure: 29.95 in and falling
Air Temperature: 73.6 F
Water Temperature: 76.3 F
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27886
Quoting spathy:


Thanks Cosmic thats where I went and there isnt one listed/shown there for Florida Bay. Except one way out of the bay more Gulf than bay.


There is one shown on this map, NFBF1. It is pretty close to shore though.
Member Since: September 23, 2005 Posts: 16 Comments: 11623
Quoting WeatherfanPR:


Thanks for answering, good to have someone around here with studies on the subject.


The classes in my Meteo Minor only gave me a glimpse of tropical weather...I really had to put everything together I learned on my own.

I best started putting pieces together during last year's season...when I was doing zoomed-out "birdseye view" charts in private of the whole North Atlantic basin. I could see how the upper atmosphere evolved...which affected the surface atmosphere. In turn...the surface developments sometimes feedback into the upper-level developments. Its all one big fluid really...

I am sharing these birdseye view charts starting this year on my blog...I hope to help others learn things they may not know about the tropical weather. I've already done 9 full discussion/charts because of the early activity this year...
Member Since: September 15, 2009 Posts: 574 Comments: 3734
1123. Thrawst
4.45 inches of rain today... sets as the rainiest day so far this year in Nassau.

Link
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1122. Grothar
It is getting very dark and ominous. The wind is picking up and we are expecting copious amount of rain in the next hour. I don't know how long I can stay on.

Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27886
1121. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
the enity over se fla is to swing out into the gulf come about to the nw towards orleans during next three days
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Thanks for that link. Adding it to the pile.
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The 18z NAM is getting aggressive.
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1118. bappit
I don't know what "sub-marginal" means in this context.
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Quoting WeatherfanPR:
Hello everyone. Are we ready for a below average Hurricane Season ? No matter what happens, we need to be ready. Every season brings new stories and this one will not be the exception.

On the other hand, I would like to know and maybe others also want to know which one of you is a Certified Meteorologist or Meteorology Student.


What if 2012 is NOT below average...
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Quoting Unfriendly:


2.8 mB in 6 hours... must be undergoing RI.


The surface pressure falls are caused by the diverging upper winds that formed today over the Florida Straits...Figure 1 in this post explains it best with the diverging blue arrows....
Member Since: September 15, 2009 Posts: 574 Comments: 3734
1115. Grothar
Quoting hydrus:
"Eggo" brand Waffles while convenient are sub-marginal to a true waffle.


Leggo my Eggo!
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27886
Quoting NCHurricane2009:


As for me...see Post 1065. I have a Meteorology Minor I completed in 2009...but I am actually a Mechanical Engineer by profession.


Thanks for answering, good to have someone around here with studies on the subject.
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I was just looking at the GOM Rainbow loop,and to my eyes it seems that the west side of the low presure that was exposed to the East of South Florida near the Bahamas is getting more showers!? like trying to close? anybody else seeing this? happening?,here in Miami winds are starting to pick-up and gusting in last 45 minutes or so.
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Quoting hydrus:
"Eggo" brand Waffles while convenient are sub-marginal to a true waffle.

Y'all need to skip the waffles altogether and move to the IHOP strawberry-stuffed French toast. Get a can of whipped cream to top it. 6 per box for about $3.25.
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Quoting NCHurricane2009:


I don't know...but check out the recent surface pressure drops at Key West...

http://www.weather.gov/data/obhistory/KEYW.html


2.8 mB in 6 hours... must be undergoing RI.
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Quoting spathy:
Does anyone know if there are weather bouys in Florida Bay?
If so could you link or show past several hours Bar. readings?
There is a buoy in Florida Bay.
Here's a good link that will show you where the buoys are.:) Link
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Quoting CanesfanatUT:


Are you an ME? I'm a ChE.


Yep....an ME...
Member Since: September 15, 2009 Posts: 574 Comments: 3734
Quoting spathy:
Does anyone know if there are weather bouys in Florida Bay?
If so could you link or show past several hours Bar. readings?


I don't know...but check out the recent surface pressure drops at Key West...

http://www.weather.gov/data/obhistory/KEYW.html
Member Since: September 15, 2009 Posts: 574 Comments: 3734
Quoting NCHurricane2009:


Well...I took a Meteorology Minor in case Mechanical Engineering didn't work out. Well...I am an Engineer but still fascinated with tropical weather since Hurricane Fran hit my home in 1996....


Are you an ME? I'm a ChE.
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1105. LargoFl
SHORT TERM FORECAST
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MELBOURNE FL
455 PM EDT SUN APR 29 2012

AMZ550-552-555-570-572-575-FLZ041-044>047-053-054 -058-059-064-141-
144-147-300100-
COASTAL VOLUSIA-FLAGLER BEACH TO VOLUSIA-
BREVARD COUNTY LINE 20 NM TO 60 NM OFFSHORE-FLAGLER BEACH TO VOLUSIA-
BREVARD COUNTY LINE OUT TO 20 NM-INDIAN RIVER-INLAND VOLUSIA-MARTIN-
NORTHERN BREVARD-NORTHERN LAKE-OKEECHOBEE-ORANGE-OSCEOLA-
SEBASTIAN INLET TO JUPITER INLET 20 NM TO 60 NM OFFSHORE-
SEBASTIAN INLET TO JUPITER INLET OUT TO 20 NM-SEMINOLE-
SOUTHERN BREVARD-SOUTHERN LAKE-ST. LUCIE-VOLUSIA-
BREVARD COUNTY LINE TO SEBASTIAN INLET 20 NM TO 60 NM OFFSHORE-
VOLUSIA-BREVARD COUNTY LINE TO SEBASTIAN INLET OUT TO 20 NM-
455 PM EDT SUN APR 29 2012

.NOW...
THROUGH MID EVENING...SHOWER BANDS OVER THE ATLANTIC WILL PUSH
ONSHORE AT 15 TO 20 MPH. THE SHOWERS WILL PRODUCE BRIEF PERIODS OF
LIGHT TO MODERATE RAIN NORTH OF A LINE FROM SEBASTIAN INLET TO LAKE
KISSIMMEE.

&&

ADDITIONAL DETAILS...INCLUDING GRAPHICS ARE AVAILABLE ONLINE AT:
HTTP://WWW.SRH.NOAA.GOV/MLB/BLOG.PHP

$$
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 48639
1104. hydrus
Quoting GeorgiaStormz:



Oh but there was a waffle shortage:

The Great Eggo Waffle Shortage of 2009

Question:
I have not been able to find Eggo� waffles in the store. When will they be available again?

Answer:
Eggo recently experienced supply constraints caused by flood damage at our bakery in Atlanta. In addition, we've been making significant equipment and technology enhancements at our other waffle bakeries. Unfortunately, these repairs and upgrades are taking longer than anticipated.


Link

"Eggo" brand Waffles while convenient are sub-marginal to a true waffle.
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Quoting afj3:

Thanks! It has been a nice, steady and soaking rain....


I've got a full update out on this situation earlier this afternoon...feel free to post how much rain you got and where you are at....
Member Since: September 15, 2009 Posts: 574 Comments: 3734
Quoting WeatherfanPR:
Any Certified Meteorologist or Meteorology Student around here or we are all weather fans ?


As for me...see Post 1065. I have a Meteorology Minor I completed in 2009...but I am actually a Mechanical Engineer by profession.
Member Since: September 15, 2009 Posts: 574 Comments: 3734
Well, I knew that wouldn't last. Now winds and rain are high again... looks like the next band of weather is heading through. Looking at the sat pics it still seems as if much of this moisture is streaming N from the northern CAR...
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22970
Rain is holding up here slightly, but winds are still high - looks like gusting over 25 kts now.

I don't think the blog died, MAwx. I think everybody dozed off.... this is sublime snoozing wx...
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22970
1098. afj3

Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

At this time, I don't think so.

Things change though.
Yes they do! Has been a nice South Florida soaker....
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1097. afj3

Quoting NCHurricane2009:


Only if it gets a defined surface feature and the NHC and Navy NRL deem it at least interesting enough to study. It could happen...
Thanks! It has been a nice, steady and soaking rain....
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1096. nigel20
Member Since: November 6, 2010 Posts: 14 Comments: 8908
Any Certified Meteorologist or Meteorology Student around here or we are all weather fans ?
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Wow, the blog really died, lol... Thunderstorm development is starting in SE Colorado... Severe threat is fairly low but there is a chance for some large hail
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 88 Comments: 8246
1093. LargoFl
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 48639
Quoting afj3:
No way this thing over Florida will get an Invest......will it?


At this time, I don't think so.

Things change though.
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Quoting BahaHurican:
lol.... yep, it's been Sunday all day, and I gotta say u can tell by some of the whack things we have been posting all day.... lucky I have been able to catch most of mine, but at least 1 person quoted my list of reasons 1 and 1 before I changed it. Can't even count to 2 today.... lol
Well, since I already wasted the post...

Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22970
Quoting afj3:
No way this thing over Florida will get an Invest......will it?



Only if it gets a defined surface feature and the NHC and Navy NRL deem it at least interesting enough to study. It could happen...
Member Since: September 15, 2009 Posts: 574 Comments: 3734
Quoting tropicfreak:


Sorry....realized it when I posted. Ugh I am so out of it today.
lol.... yep, it's been Sunday all day, and I gotta say u can tell by some of the whack things we have been posting all day.... lucky I have been able to catch most of mine, but at least 1 person quoted my list of reasons 1 and 1. Can't even count to 2 today.... lol
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22970
1088. afj3
No way this thing over Florida will get an Invest......will it?

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Quoting hydrus:
Look. We both know that if there was in fact, a shortage of waffles, none of us would be here to talk about it....Waffles, relatively speaking, are the only reason why humans exist today....



Oh but there was a waffle shortage:

The Great Eggo Waffle Shortage of 2009

Question:
I have not been able to find Eggo waffles in the store. When will they be available again?

Answer:
Eggo recently experienced supply constraints caused by flood damage at our bakery in Atlanta. In addition, we've been making significant equipment and technology enhancements at our other waffle bakeries. Unfortunately, these repairs and upgrades are taking longer than anticipated.


Link

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Quoting BahaHurican:
I know what SAL is, freak. I just wanted to know what SAL there was to be seen in the imagery. or maybe I was being too sarcastic, I dunno....



Sorry....realized it when I posted. Ugh I am so out of it today.
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1085. hydrus
Quoting BahaHurican:
I know what SAL is, freak. I just wanted to know what SAL there was to be seen in the imagery. or maybe I was being too sarcastic, I dunno....

lol
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Interesting evening for sure and a very challenging forecast. Looks like PBC is going to get in on the rain action this evening. Rain is beginning to spread NWard.

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1083. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)


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1081. hydrus
Quoting GeorgiaStormz:


did it cause waffle shortages?,
If not the '09 one was worse ;)
Look. We both know that if there was in fact, a shortage of waffles, none of us would be here to talk about it....Waffles, relatively speaking, are the only reason why humans exist today....
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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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