Hurricane Irma has made landfall in the Florida Keys. The strength of the storm has led Florida residents to compare it to Hurricane Andrew, the devastating storm that remains the sixth-costliest storm in Atlantic hurricane history.
Sixty-five deaths were blamed on the storm, which passed right over South Florida, bringing sustained winds as high as 165 mph. It’s one of only two Category 5 hurricanes on the Saffir-Simpson scale to make landfall in Florida.
As Irma begins its trek up the west Florida coast, here’s a look at Andrew.
1. It’s 1 of Only 2 Category 5 Hurricanes to Make Landfall in Florida
Hurricane Andrew made landfall in the U.S. on August 24, 1992 near Homestead in Miami-Dade County, according to the National Hurricane Center. It made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane and is one of only two Category 5 hurricanes to make landfall in Florida.
The other one was the 1935 Labor Day hurricane, which remains the most intense hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. Its highest sustained winds was measured at 185 mph. According to Weather Underground, the 1935 hurricane struck the Florida Keys, then moved up the west coast of Florida before making landfall again on the panhandle.
Andrew was devastating to Homestead, which is the home of the Homestead Air Force Base. Most of the Air Base’s 2,000 buildings were “severely damaged or unusable, the Air Force told the Washington Post at the time. Ninety-nine percent of Homestead mobile homes were completely destroyed. According to the NOAA, “Andrew reportedly destroyed 25,524 homes and damaged 101,241 others.”
2. Andrew Caused an Estimated $25.3 Billion in Damage to Florida, Making it the Costliest Hurricane in Florida History Before Irma
Andrew caused an estimated $26.5 billion in damage in total, making it the sixth-costliest Atlantic hurricane. It was the fifth until last month’s Hurricane Harvey. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused $108 billion in damage.
In Florida alone, Hurricane Andrew caused an estimated $25.3 billion in damage. That makes it Florida’s costliest hurricane ever.
The NHC notes that most of the damage was caused by wind and led to “tremendous structural damage, particularly in southern Dade County.” The center also notes that the loss of life could have been much worse. Lives were saved because of the massive evacuations ordered, with 55,000 people leaving the Keys and 517,000 people ordered to evacuate in Miami-Dade alone.
“Notwithstanding, the loss of life in Hurricane Andrew, while very unfortunate, was far less than has previously occurred in hurricanes of comparable strength,” the NHC notes. “Historical data suggests that storm surge is the greatest threat to life. Some lives were likely saved by the evacuation along the coastline of southeast Florida. The relatively small loss of life there serves as testimony to the success and importance of coordinated programs of hurricane preparedness.”
3. After Andrew, the Florida Building Code Study Commission Was Established, Leading to the Florida Building Code in 1998
After Hurricane Andrew, Florida officials began enacting stricter building codes. In 1996, Governor Lawton Chiles began the Florida Building Code Study Commission, which was created to assess building codes at the time, and figure out what changes needed to be made. The commission was created in response to a crisis created by Andrew – after insurers realized that their worst case scenarios could be much worse, many left, leaving Floridians uninsured.
The commission spent 16 months studying what went wrong, finding that code violations resulted in structural failures and all that existed was confusing codes that were difficult to enforce. After the study, the Florida Building Code was established in 1998.
As The Press Herald reported before Irma hit, Andrew resulted in some of the strictest building codes in the country being created. Since 2001, all buildings in Florida must withstand winds of 111 mph and more.
In Miami, buildings have to withstand winds of 130 mph or more and some “critical infrastructure buildings” need to withstand winds at 156 mph or more. Codes also require shatterproof windows, stronger roods and reinforced concrete pillars. The codes will be updated in January, which will add minimum elevations above expected flood levels, the Herald reports.
“The code isn’t perfect,” former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Craig Fugate told the Press Herald. “It’s not always going to provide protection needed, especially for schools, firehouses, 911 centers and other types of critical infrastructure, even though those are critical functions that we should have hardened for wind and flood damage.”
4. Andrew Also Devastated Parts of Louisiana & Caused $500 Million in Losses for Oil Companies
Hurricane Andrew didn’t just devastate Florida. After passing over Florida, Andrew went over the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall again as a Category 3 storm in Morgan City, Louisiana on August 26. According to the NHC, the storm caused an estimated $1 billion in damage to Louisiana.
Before reaching Louisiana, it caused $500 million in losses to the oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico. Thirteen platforms were toppled and five others began leaning. Twenty-one satellites were toppled and there were 104 incidents of structural damage.
A day after the storm, it was estimated that 250,000 Louisiana residents would be left homeless. About 230,000 people were left without power.
You can find the full, 207-page Natural Disaster Survey report on Hurricane Andrew right here.
5. Irma Was About Twice as Big as Andrew At 1 Point Before Reaching Florida
Irma will still be a devastating storm to Florida, but at one point it looked like it would make landfall as a Category 5. Accuweather reported that Irma was twice as big as Andrew before reaching Cuba.
Accuweather notes that, compared to Irma, Andrew was a much more compact storm that moved quickly east-to-west over South Florida. But Irma is expected to make a much different track, moving northwest along the Florida west coast. While Andrew made landfall in Maimi-Dade County (then known as “Dade County”), Irma made landfall at the Florida Keys.
In fact, Irma is more like 1950’s Hurricane King. That storm also moved up the entire Florida peninsula, although it made landfall on the Miami side.