How Does Hurricane Ian Stack Up Against Florida’s Most Devastating Storms?
Elements of this image furnished by NASA. Getty Images 1312890451

Hurricane Ian struck the west coast of Florida on Wednesday, September 28, wreaking havoc as it cut across the middle of the state.

While the system — which made landfall just shy of a Category 5 storm — continued its trajectory into the Atlantic Ocean and back toward the continental United States, millions of Floridians were left without power as storm surges flooded infrastructure and residences.

The Sunshine State is, however, no stranger to hurricanes and other severe tropical weather. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a hurricane is defined as “a rotating low-pressure weather system that has organized thunderstorms but no fronts” and falls on a scale between Category 1 and Category 5.

As reported by Colorado State University meteorologist Philip Klotzbach, Hurricane Ian — with recorded winds of 150 miles per hour and pressure of 940 millibars — is tied for the fourth most severe storm to ever hit the state of Florida.

Here are the most severe hurricanes ever to strike the state of Florida.

Great Labor Day Hurricane — September 3, 1935

At the height of the Great Depression, the strongest hurricane recorded in American history hit the state of Florida.

Boasting winds of 180 miles per hour, the storm made landfall in the Florida Keys and gradually progressed along the western coast of Florida, leaving immense devastation in its wake. Though it was small, with a radius of roughly 15 miles, the storm managed to kill roughly 408 people.

At the time, the federal government had created a variety of initiatives to employ veterans of World War I, with several construction projects employing 700 former soldiers in the Florida Keys. Nearly half of the workers took a trip to Miami over the weekend of the hurricane, with few knowing the extent of the storm’s power. Among the deceased were 252 veterans, while 106 others were injured.

The hurricane occurred before the World Meteorological Organization began naming storms in 1953, with lists for the Atlantic Ocean managed by the National Hurricane Center. The original lists included only female names, while the organization now retires the monikers of particularly devastating storms — such as Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Irma, and Hurricane Sandy.

Hurricane Andrew — August 24, 1992

The southern portion of Florida was impacted by Hurricane Andrew — one of the few storms in recorded history to make landfall as a Category 5.

The storm began its path in southern Miami-Dade county with sustained winds of 165 miles per hour. After leaving Florida, the system traversed the Gulf of Mexico and made a second landfall in Louisiana two days later.

“We have come a long way in advancing hurricane forecasts since 1992,” National Hurricane Center acting director Jamie Rhome said last month upon the thirtieth anniversary of the storm. “Sustained investments in research, modeling, satellites, aircraft observations and forecaster innovation have led to a 75% improvement in hurricane track forecasts and a 50% improvement in intensity forecasts.”

Nevertheless, Hurricane Andrew destroyed over 50,000 homes and caused $26 billion in damage across the country — the most costly natural disaster in American history until Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005.

Hurricane Michael — October 10, 2018

In the panhandle of Florida, Hurricane Michael made landfall as a Category 5 storm with sustained winds raging at 161 miles per hour. The system caused immense damage throughout the region, particularly near Panama City Beach.

In some portions of the state, up to 14 feet of storm surge damaged beachfront properties and other structures. The hurricane cut two new inlets into St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, meaning that the attraction was no longer accessible by vehicle.

Hurricane Michael, which also impacted the southwestern part of Georgia at hurricane force, caused 16 deaths and over $25 billion in damages. The storm was the strongest on record to hit the panhandle of Florida.

Florida Keys Hurricane — September 10, 1919

For days, the Florida Keys Hurricane gained strength before tearing into the Keys as a Category 4 storm. Nearly every structure in the area sustained some degree of damage, while 10 ships in the Florida Straits were capsized, resulting in the loss of more than 500 lives.

After continuing its trajectory through the Gulf of Mexico for several more days, the Florida Keys Hurricane made another landfall near Corpus Christi, Texas, as a Category 3 system. The storm surge damaged businesses in the downtown area and ports along the coastline, with up to 600 people losing their lives.

In today’s dollars, the storm caused $376 million in damage.

Hurricane Charley — August 13, 2004

Nearly two decades prior to Hurricane Ian, Hurricane Charley ripped through a nearly identical trajectory at a nearly identical strength.

The latter storm made landfall as a Category 4 storm on Cayo Costa Island, boasting winds at 150 miles per hour. Hurricane Charley, however, was smaller than Hurricane Ian, had a less severe storm surge, produced less rain, and moved through Florida at a much faster pace.

Hurricane Charley killed 15 people and caused between $16 billion and $23 billion in damage.

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