Powerhouse Irma rewrites Atlantic tropical cyclone record books

A strong tropical wave blows off the African coast in late August. The wave quickly intensifies into Tropical Storm Irma. There is no way to know just how intense the storm will become.

Irma continues to undergo rapid intensification over super-warm tropical waters and ideal atmospheric conditions. The small tropical system quickly morphs into Category 5 intensity with surprising speed.

The rest, as they say, is hurricane history.

Hurricane Irma set about  two dozen records for hurricane intensity and landfall. Irma breached multiple records for storms in the Atlantic, eclipsing some Pacific tropical cyclone records in the process. Irma packed sustained maximum winds of 185 mph for a record 37 straight hours.

Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach kept a running list of Irma’s records over the past two weeks.

Here’s Klotzbach’s list of the many records Irma set during her fateful trip across the Atlantic.

Hurricane Irma Meteorological Records/Notable Facts Recap
Intensity/Day Measures

  • 185 mph lifetime max winds – tied with Florida Keys (1935), Gilbert (1988) and Wilma (2005) for second strongest max winds of all time in Atlantic hurricane. Allen had max winds of 190 mph in 1980
  • 185 mph lifetime max winds – the strongest storm to exist in the Atlantic Ocean outside of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico on record
  • 185 mph max winds for 37 hours – the longest any cyclone around the globe has maintained that intensity on record. The previous record was Haiyan in the NW Pacific at 24 hours
  • 914 mb lifetime minimum central pressure – lowest pressure by an Atlantic hurricane outside of the western Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico on record

ACE Measures

  • Generated the most Accumulated Cyclone Energy by a tropical cyclone onrecord in the tropical Atlantic (7.5-20°N, 60-20°W)
  • Generated more Accumulated Cyclone Energy than the first eight named stormsof the Atlantic hurricane season (Arlene-Harvey) combined
  • Generated the most Accumulated Cyclone Energy in a 24-hour period on record,breaking old record set by Allen (1980)
  • Generated enough Accumulated Cyclone Energy to satisfy NOAA ACE definition for an average Atlantic hurricane season

Landfall Records

  • Leeward Islands: Strongest storm on record to impact the Leeward Islands
    defined as 15-19°N, 65-60°W for this calculation, with max winds of 185 mph.
  • Turks and Caicos: Closest approach of a Category 5 hurricane on record
  • The Bahamas: First Category 5 hurricane to make landfall since Andrew (1992)
  • Cuba: 160 mph, 924 mb – Category 5
  • First Category 5 hurricane to make landfall since the Cuba Hurricane of

Continental United States:

  • 1st Landfall (Cudjoe Key, FL): 130 mph, 929 mb – Category 4
  • First Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in Florida since Charley (2004)
    and major hurricane to make landfall in Florida since Wilma (2005)
  • 929 mb pressure is tied for 7th lowest on record for U.S. landfall with Lake
    Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928
  • 2nd Landfall (Marco Island, FL): 115 mph, 940 mb – Category 3
  • Exact same latitude/longitude as well as same Saffir/Simpson Category at
    landfall as Wilma (2005): 25.9°N, 81.7°W

We’re just starting to dig out and clean up from Irma. Irma is also rewriting the record books.

  • Philip A. Rutter

    Hey, MPR Weather Posse! (Gang being already taken by WaPo… um, Coterie? Gaggle? Cabal? Squadron? I suggest a contest…) A non-hurricane question. We’re having another smoky day here in Minnesota, yes? So my eyes tell me. However, human eyes are known to be lousy at measuring light intensity; they adapt too fast and too far, so almost anything can look “normal”.

    My serious question – how much light energy is being blocked by this smoke? My house and business are entirely powered by photovoltaic solar panels. In general, they need “full sun” to operate well, and at lower light intensities, production of electricity can suffer badly. I’ve had a couple of indications that I’m not getting my normal input, over the past month or so.

    Do you have any way to find out how many watt/sq meters we’re missing with this smoke? I actually need to know. 🙂

  • MPR Weather

    Great question Philip and it’s not your imagination. I can’t remember this many smoky sky days in a summer. I’m asking some folks who may know more about this today.