Hurricane Wilma

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Hurricane Wilma
Hurricane Wilma at record intensity southeast of  the Yucatán Peninsula on October 19, 2005.

Hurricane Wilma at record intensity southeast of the Yucatán Peninsula on October 19, 2005.
Duration Oct. 1525, 2005
Highest winds 175 mph (280 km/h) sustained
Damages $8-12 billion (insured estimate)
Fatalities 25 direct, 22 indirect
Areas affected Jamaica, Haiti, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Honduras, Belize, Yucatán Peninsula, Florida, Bahamas, Atlantic Canada
Part of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season

Hurricane Wilma was the twenty-first named storm, twelfth hurricane, and sixth major hurricane of the record-breaking 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. It was also the third Category 5 hurricane of the season, beating the records set by the 1960 and 1961 seasons.

At its peak, it was the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic basin and the tenth most intense globally, with the lowest atmospheric pressure ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere of 882 millibars (26.05 inHg) at sea level, exceeding the record previously held by Hurricane Gilbert. Wilma was the third Category 5 hurricane to develop in October, the other two being Hurricane Mitch of 1998 and Hurricane Hattie of 1961. It was the second 21st storm in any season, and formed nearly a month earlier than the only previous 21st storm (in 1933).

Wilma made several landfalls, with the most destructive effects felt in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, Cuba, and the U.S. state of Florida. At least 47 deaths have been reported, and insured damage is estimated at between US$8-12 billion (about $6-9 billion in the US) and total damage likely to be in the $15-20 billion range, which would rank Wilma among the top 10 costliest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic.


Storm history

Visible image of Hurricane Wilma near record intensity with a central pressure of 882 millibars. Image captured by satellite at 1315Z (9:15 EDT) on October 19, 2005.
Visible image of Hurricane Wilma near record intensity with a central pressure of 882 millibars. Image captured by satellite at 1315Z (9:15 EDT) on October 19, 2005.

In the second week of October 2005, a large and complex area of low pressure developed over the western Atlantic and eastern Caribbean with several centers of thunderstorm activity. This area of disturbed weather southwest of Jamaica slowly organized into Tropical Depression Twenty-four on October 15.

It reached tropical storm strength at 5 am EDT October 17 (09:00 UTC), making it the first storm ever to use the 'W' name since alphabetical naming began in 1950, and tying the record for most storms in a season with 1933. Moving slowly over warm water with little wind shear, it strengthened steadily and became a hurricane on October 18. This made it the 12th hurricane of the season, tying the record set in 1969.

Hurricane Wilma began to intensify rapidly during late afternoon on October 18 around 4 pm EDT. Over a 10 hour period Hurricane Hunter aircraft measured a 78 mbar (2.30 inHg) pressure drop. In a 24-hour period from 8 am EDT October 18 (12:00 UTC) to the following morning, the pressure fell 90 mbar (2.65 inHg). In this same 24-hour period, Wilma strengthened from a strong tropical storm with 70 mph (110 km/h) winds to a powerful Category 5 hurricane with 175 mph (280 km/h) winds. (In comparison, Hurricane Gilbert of 1988 – the previous recordholder for lowest Atlantic pressure – recorded a 78 mbar (2.30 inHg) pressure drop in a 24 hour period for a 3 mbar/h pressure drop.) This is a record for the Atlantic basin and is the most rapid deepening phases ever undergone by a tropical cyclone anywhere on Earth. The former record holder was Super Typhoon Forrest in 1983. [1]

Ten most intense Atlantic hurricanes

Intensity is measured solely by central pressure

Rank Hurricane Year Minimum pressure
1 Wilma 2005 882 mbar (hPa)
2 Gilbert 1988 888 mbar (hPa)
3 Labor Day 1935 892 mbar (hPa)
4 Rita 2005 897 mbar (hPa)
5 Allen 1980 899 mbar (hPa)
6 Katrina 2005 902 mbar (hPa)
7 Camille 1969 905 mbar (hPa)
8 Mitch 1998 905 mbar (hPa)
9 Ivan 2004 910 mbar (hPa)
10 Janet 1955 914 mbar (hPa)
Source: The Weather Channel

With Hurricane Wilma, 2005 became the first year on record to host three category 5 storms in the Atlantic basin (the other two being Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita).

During its intensification on October 19, the eye's diameter shrank to as small as 1.5 to 2.0 nautical miles - one of the smallest eyes ever seen in a tropical cyclone. [2]

Quickly thereafter, Wilma set a record for the lowest pressure ever recorded in an Atlantic hurricane when its central pressure dropped to 884 mbar (26.10 inHg) at 8 am EDT (12:00 UTC) on October 19, then dropped again to 882 mbar (26.045 InHg) three hours later before rising slowly in the afternoon (while remaining a Category 5 hurricane). In addition, at 11 pm EDT that day (03:00 UTC October 20), Wilma's pressure dropped again to 894 mbar (26.40 inHg) – as the storm weakened to a Category 4 with winds of 155 mph (250 km/h). Wilma was the first hurricane ever in the Atlantic Basin to have a central pressure below 900 mbar (26.58 inHg) while at Category 4 intensity (in fact, only two other recorded Atlantic hurricanes have ever had lower pressures even at this point).

Photo taken from the balcony of a Cancún hotel at the height of the storm.
Photo taken from the balcony of a Cancún hotel at the height of the storm.

While Wilma was the most intense hurricane (i.e. a tropical cyclone in Atlantic, Central Pacific or Eastern Pacific) ever recorded, there have been many more intense typhoons in the Pacific (see link in the next section). Super Typhoon Tip is the most intense tropical cyclone on record at 870 mbar (25.69 inHg).

Radar image of Hurricane Wilma as it slowly drifted inland over the NE Yucatán Peninsula with winds of 140 mph.
Radar image of Hurricane Wilma as it slowly drifted inland over the NE Yucatán Peninsula with winds of 140 mph.

On October 21, Hurricane Wilma made landfall on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula as a powerful category four hurricane, with winds in excess of 150 mph. The hurricane's eye first passed over the island of Cozumel, and then made an official landfall near Playa del Carmen in the state of Quintana Roo around midnight on October 22 EDT with winds near 140 mph. Portions of the island of Cozumel experienced the calm eye of Wilma for several hours with some blue skies and sunshine visible at times. The eye slowly drifted northward, with the center passing just to the west of Cancún, Quintana Roo. Some portions of the Yucatán Peninsula experienced hurricane force winds for well over 24 hours. The hurricane began accelerating in the early morning hours of October 23, exiting the NE tip of the Yucatán Peninsula and entering the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 2 storm.

Flooding caused by Wilma on Key Haven, island suburb of Key West, Florida
Flooding caused by Wilma on Key Haven, island suburb of Key West, Florida

Hurricane Wilma's southeast eyewall passed the greater Key West area in the lower Florida Keys in the early morning hours of October 24, 2005. After the hurricane had already passed, there was a 10' storm surge from the Gulf of Mexico that completely inundated a large portion of the lower Keys. Most of the streets in and near Key West were flooded with at least 3' of salt water, causing the destruction of tens of thousands of vehicles. Many houses as well were flooded with 1-2' of sea water.

Hurricane Wilma reintensifies after encountering the Gulf Loop Current.
Hurricane Wilma reintensifies after encountering the Gulf Loop Current.

Despite significant wind shear in the Gulf, Hurricane Wilma regained some strength before making a third landfall just north of Everglades City, Florida, near Cape Romano, at 6:30 am EDT October 24 (10:30 UTC) as a Category 3 hurricane. The reintensification of Hurricane Wilma was due to its interaction with the Gulf Loop Current. At landfall, Wilma had sustained winds of 125 mph (200 km/h). Over the Florida peninsula, Wilma weakened slightly to a Category 2 hurricane, and exited Florida and entered the Atlantic at that strength about six hours later.

Unexpectedly, Wilma regained strength over the Gulf Stream and once again became a Category 3 hurricane north of the Bahamas and regained all the strength it lost within 12 hours. However, on October 25, the storm gradually began weakening and became extratropical late that afternoon south of Nova Scotia - while still at hurricane strength and affecting a large area of land and water with stormy conditions.


Quintana Roo government officials declared a red alert on the evening of Wednesday, October 19. Classes were suspended in the state's northern municipalities and residents of coastal areas were advised to take refuge further inland; tourists in the resort city of Cancún and its adjacent islands were told to return to their places of origin or head inland. In neighboring Yucatán, classes were also suspended in 18 coastal municipalities. [3]

In Nicaragua, civil organizations were ordered to make hurricane preparations.

In El Salvador, the National Emergency Committee was activated.

In Cuba, preparations were made to evacuate four western provinces, including the Isle of Youth [4]. In all, over 368,000 people were ordered to evacuate. [5].

A mandatory evacuation of residents is in effect for the Florida Keys in Monroe County. However, reports suggest that as many of 80% of residents may have ignored the evacuation order. County offices, schools and courts will be closed Monday. About 300 Keys evacuees are being housed at the Monroe County shelter at Florida International University in Miami-Dade County [6].

Also in Florida, all Collier County public schools were declared closed for Friday, October 21. The schools were closed to "allow parents and staff to prepare for the storm and potential evacuation. The closings will also allow for needed preparation of schools to be used as hurricane shelters." [7]

Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers has completed an evacuation; classes have been canceled until further notice. Eckerd College in St. Petersburg has finished an evacuation, which was scheduled to end by 5 pm EDT on October 20. All campuses of the University of South Florida, the University of Tampa and the University of Central Florida were closed on Monday, October 24.

Mandatory evacuations were in effect for all Collier County residents living West or South of US 41. Other areas that were included in the mandatory evacuation were Seagate, Parkshore, The Moorings, Coquina Sands, Olde Naples, Aqualane Shores, Port Royal and Royal Harbour. Hurricane shelters in the area are opened. Curfews are already in place for several cities in Lee and Collier counties. [8]

Anticipating high winds all counties south of Marion were closed on Monday, October 24 in order to prevent possible harm to county employees and students. The last places to issue this warning sat within the gap between bands as tornadoes were observed as far north as Sumter, Marion, Pasco, and Polk Counties.


Death toll

Country Total Region State
County County
Cuba 4 0
Haïti 12 12
Jamaica 1 1
Mexico 8 Quintana Roo 7 5
Yucatán 1 1
USA 22 Florida 22 Broward 3 1
Collier 7 3
Hillsborough 1 0
Miami-Dade 2 1
Palm Beach 6 2
St. Johns 1 0
St. Lucie 2 0
Totals 47 26
Because of differing sources, totals may not match.

Some preliminary information is already starting to come in from the first affected areas. Mudslides have been triggered from the outer bands in Haiti, killing at least 12 people. [9]

Wilma claimed one death in Jamaica as a tropical depression on Sunday, October 16. It pounded the island for a third day on October 18, 2005, flooding several low-lying communities and triggering mudslides that blocked roads and damaged several homes. Almost 250 people were in emergency shelters on the island. [10]

At least eight deaths were reported in Mexico. Two were in the Playa del Carmen area due to a gas explosion caused by the strong winds. Four deaths have also been reported on Cozumel and another in Cancún due to wind blowing a window out. Another death was reported in the state of Yucatán due to a falling tree, but no other details were available. [11]

In Cuba, a bus carrying evacuees crashed, killing four people, including three foreign tourists. [12]

At least 22 Hurricane Wilma-related deaths were reported in the United States, all in Florida. CNN reports that a Coral Springs man who was inspecting damage during the eye of the hurricane was killed by a falling tree, according to a Broward County official. [13] Three more direct deaths were reported in Florida, one in rural Collier County and two in Palm Beach County, all due to wind-blown debris. In addition, a drowning was reported on Maule Lake in northern Miami-Dade County from a capsized boat. Wilma was also blamed for at least 15 indirect deaths. [14] [15] [16] [17]

Direct deaths indicate those caused by the direct effects of the winds, flooding, tornadoes, storm surge or oceanic effects of Wilma. Indirect deaths indicate those caused by hurricane-related accidents (including car accidents, fires or other incidents), as well as clean-up and evacuation incidents and health issues (e.g. poisoning, illnesses, waiting for help).


Information on damage remains unclear. However, according to pictures and television reports, there is extensive structural damage throughout the Cancún area, as well as significant flooding and many downed trees and power lines and scattered debris. Several homes had also collapsed. Rainfall amounts in excess of 23 inches (590 mm) were reported in several areas, with Isla Mujeres reporting 1,637mm — three times what Hurricane Gilbert dropped. [18] One gymnasium used as a shelter lost its roof, which forced the evacuation of 1,000+ people staying there. [19]

The Governor of Quintana Roo, Félix González Canto, said in an interview: "Never in the history of Quintana Roo have we seen a storm like this." [20]

On Cozumel, the damage is extensive, but not as catastrophic as originally feared according to a witness, with many broken windows, fallen trees and power lines but less in the way of structural damage. It is comparable to the scene after Hurricane Emily back in July 2005, a storm of similar intensity but faster moving.

Communication is limited at this point as telephone and electric services are completely out in the affected areas. There have also been extensive reports of looting of many businesses in the Yucatán, particularly in Cancún. [21]

After Wilma passed, there was a sense of desperation that developed in the region, due to the fact that people were being held in shelters due to the extensive damage. Thousands of tourists remain stranded in shelters, and the priority is sending them home now, according to President Vicente Fox. Buses have begun to come into Cancún from Mérida, where tourists are hoping to find flights home. [22]

Insured damage in Mexico is estimated at between $1-3 billion, which would likely translate to $2-5 billion (USD) in total damage. [23]


Coastal flooding was reported in many areas due to Wilma's storm surge and flooding from the outer bands, particularly around Havana. Over 250 homes were heavily flooded and rescuers required scuba gear, inflatable rafts and amphibious vehicles to reach the most severely flooded areas. [24] The city of Havana was also without power and wind damage was reported as a result of winds up to 85 mph (140 km/h). [25]


Even concrete power poles were snapped by the hurricane's winds.
Even concrete power poles were snapped by the hurricane's winds.

Early reports suggested the damage from Wilma was extensive and widespread over South Florida due to winds and flooding. Key West was under 3 to 6 feet (1 to 2 metres) of water from the storm surge, and major flooding was reported throughout the Keys.

Even while the center of Wilma was still a long way away from Florida, its effects were already being felt with its expansive outer bands.

The Naples Metropolitan Area recieved the brunt of hurricane Wilma. Hundreds in the county, if not thousands, have been left homeless by the category three hurricane. The point of landfall, between Marco Island and Everglades City, is largely uninhabited but the communities around landfall suffered extreme damage.

An example of the lighter side of Hurricane Wilma, a homeowner painted a mural of Wilma Flintstone on the plywood securing the front window.
An example of the lighter side of Hurricane Wilma, a homeowner painted a mural of Wilma Flintstone on the plywood securing the front window.

The Naples Airport was severely damaged by the hurricane, while areas like Immokalee and East Naples extreme and widespread roof damage to numerous homes and communities. Out of the 170 signaled intersections in Collier County, 130 have been destroyed. There has been damage to the 90 high-rise condominiums in Coastal Naples, where some levels have been blown out completely by the high winds brough by the storm (much like the damage in downtown Miami and Fort Lauderdale). 90% of all mobile homes in East Naples have been destroyed, while 30% of the mobile homes in all of Collier County suffered the same fate. Widespread roof damage is evident across the county outside of the City of Naples itself. At least three deaths are blamed on Hurricane Wilma in Collier County and widespread wind and water damage is commonplace across the county.

Florida Power & Light reported that 3,241,000 customers (this is probably equal to more than 6 million people) lost electrical power[26]. Many windows were knocked out of high-rise buildings, roofs were torn off buildings and many mobile homes were destroyed.

Nearly every window on the north side of South Beach Community Hospital in Miami Beach was blown out.  A strong tornado is the suspect in this case.
Nearly every window on the north side of South Beach Community Hospital in Miami Beach was blown out. A strong tornado is the suspect in this case.

Widespread damage throughout South Florida was also caused by the many tornadoes in the western portion of the hurricane.

The widespread power outages in Miami-Dade and Broward County compounded the difficulties South Floridians faced following Wilma. The traffic lights that were still standing were not working, causing an increase traffic problems. Gasoline was in high demand for cars and generators and six-hour waits for gas were not uncommon, due to the lack of gas stations with power to pump the fuel. Much of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties were told to boil water immediately after Wilma. Communications was also difficult as land lines were damaged, and cell phone towers were either damaged, without power, or overloaded in capacity. Many people later admitted they underestimated Wilma's power (Category 3) as she approached South Florida (Wilma was expected to weaken to a Category 1 as she reached the east coast), and failed to take the precautions that they would have taken with a stronger storm.

Economic impact

Orange juice futures reached the highest level in six years on Wednesday, October 19, 2005, closing up 2.9 cents at $1.118 per pound. Wilma's potential for damage to orange trees in Florida could have an impact on several upcoming growing cycles. This is compounded by problems caused last year by Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne, which devastated Florida's orange crop, destroying many groves entirely. [27]

The wind swath of Hurricane Wilma.
The wind swath of Hurricane Wilma.

As dynamic models have moved the storm's track east over Florida, oil futures eased as worries of another direct hit on the oil producing regions of the Gulf of Mexico subsided. Also, Florida's sugar Industry was hard hit, the cropping season had already started and had to be halted indefinitely. Damage to sugarcane crops is critical and widespread.

The NFL moved up its regular-season game between Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins to 7pm on Friday, October 21 in preparation of the hurricane. The NCAA postponed two college football games scheduled in south Florida on Saturday, October 22. Georgia Tech vs. University of Miami has been rescheduled for Saturday, November 19. West Virginia vs South Florida has been rescheduled for Saturday, December 3. The NHL rescheduled its Saturday, October 22 regular-season game between the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers to Monday, December 5. Due to roof damage caused by Wilma and the loss of power at the BankAtlantic Center, the Panthers also had to postpone their October 29 matchup against the Washington Capitals. Furthermore, a long anticipated concert by the industrial rock band, Nine Inch Nails, expected to have taken place Monday, October 24th, was postponed to another date, yet to be announced.

The economic impact isn't limited to the United States, however. The popular Mexican resort towns of Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, and Cancún all suffered significant damage from Wilma, causing major loss of tourism income.

See also


  1. ^  Atlantic Oceanic and Meterological Laboratory
  2. ^  Jeff Masters' Weather Underground blog
  3. ^  El Universal: Preparan alerta roja en Quintana Roo Link to a Spanish language website
  4. ^  BBC: Hurricane Wilma grows in strength
  5. ^  Hurricane Wilma pounds Mexico's Yucatan
  6. ^  Monroe County, Florida: Emergency Bulletins
  7. ^  Collier County Public Schools
  8. ^  WBBH NBC-2 Collier County issues evacuations
  9. ^  Yahoo News: Hurricane Wilma intensifies, turns deadly in Haiti
  10. ^  NDTV: Wilma nears Cayman Islands
  11. ^  Wilma pounds Florida, floods Cuba, kills 15
  12. ^  Hurricane Wilma kills at least 7 in Mexico
  13. ^  Hurricane Wilma pounds Mexico's Yucatan
  14. ^  Hurricane Wilma Punishes Mexican Coastline
  15. ^  Wilma pummels Florida
  16. ^  Wilma's Rain Bands cause Flooding in Broward
  17. ^  Wilma pummels Florida
  18. ^
  19. ^  Sun-Sentinel photograph of damage at the Kathleen C. Wright Building, downtown Fort Lauderdale
  20. ^  Sun-Sentinel photograph of damage at the Broward Financial Center, downtown Fort Lauderdale
  21. ^  Wilma Barrels Across South Florida
  22. ^  First U.S victim reported by CNN
  23. ^  Wilma Barrels Across South Florida
  24. ^  Wilma Kills 6 in Fla.; 6M Without Power
  25. ^ Hurricane Wilma Signs

External links

Tropical cyclones of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season
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