While we wait for word on the damage from Category 5 hurricane Patricia which battered the southwestern Mexican coast last night, it is worth noting that the the last landfalling major hurricane (cat 3+) to hits the continental United States was 10 years ago today.
After meandering over the Yucatan Peninsula for several days prior, category 3 Hurricane Wilma accelerated as it entered the Gulf of Mexico on October 23rd, 2005. Wilma made landfall in Southwest Florida near Cape Romano at 630 AM EDT on October 24th, 2005. Wilma was well tracked by radar is it raced across South Florida at around 25 mph, crossing the state in around 4.5 hours during the day.
Widespread wind damage occurred as a result of the storm with over 3 million customers losing power and notable damage to hi-rise buildings. A 4 to 7 foot storm surge lead to extensive flooding along the Gulf coast with a 4 foot surge leading to flooding in Miami-Dade County.
The storm is also notable as the strongest storm on record in the Atlantic by pressure, reaching 882mb (26.05") on October 19th, 2005 after an incredible 88mb drop in 12 hours! Wilma ranks as the fourth costliest hurricane in US history to date and the second latest US major hurricane landfall.
Despite Wilma’s damage, the U.S. got very lucky that day.
Wilma peaked, and was on the decline, long before making her U.S. landfall and she hit in one of the least inhabited portions of the state (Cape Romano). The storm also sped across the peninsula in less than 5 hours, limiting the damage.
Had the storm track shifted 75 miles in either direction, the affected populations would have been much greater.
Despite all of this, Wilma caused over 20 billion dollars in losses in Florida, killed (directly or indirectly) more than 2 dozen in Florida, and left 6 million people without electricity – some for as long as 18 days. While nowhere near the power of Hurricane Andrew (1992), or Camille (1969), Wilma is a reminder of that it doesn’t take a Category 5 storm to ruin your whole day.
2012’s Hurricane Sandy – which was only a Category 2 at landfall – killed nearly 160 in the United States and caused over $70 billion in damage. Katrina – which nearly destroyed New Orleans in 2005 – had decreased from a CAT 5 storm shortly before landfall to a CAT 3 when she hit the coast.
For those who think that devastating hurricanes are a new phenomenon - of the 10 strongest Hurricanes to strike the United States mainland - only three have occurred in the past 60 years; Camille in 1969, Andrew in 1992, and Charley in 2004.
Compare that to the 16 years between 1919 and 1935, where 4 of the top 10 storms made landfall. Including #1 on the list, the 1935 labor day storm which killed hundreds in the Florida Keys.
Right now, we appear to be in an extended Atlantic lull for hurricanes, while the Pacific heats up (literally and figuratively) with activity. Even so, major hurricanes can occur during these quiescent periods. Hurricane Andrew (1992) fell into the last quiet Atlantic cycle, yet it sits at #3 on the all time list.
As we build up communities and infrastructure along our coastlines, more and more people live in harm's way. The `luck’ we had with Wilma crossing a relatively sparsely populated area of the Florida peninsula 10 years ago becomes a little less possible with each passing year.
Regardless of the risks, we aren’t going to stop living along the coast, or building in seismically active regions, or living in tornado alley. Our only recourse is to build for resilience, and to prepare for these disasters. Advance preparations can save lives, protect property, and even keep businesses in business.
Throughout the month of September FEMA, READY.Gov, state and local Emergency agencies, and grassroots coalition members promoted National Preparedness Month through community events, drills, and exercises and yes . . .blogs like mine . . to encourage Americans to become better prepared to deal with any emergency or disaster.
To see last month’s preparedness blogs (newest to oldest) click this link.
And for more on `all hazards’ preparedness, I’d invite you to visit:
AMERICAN RED CROSS http://www.redcross.org/