Hurricane Matthew: Where Does It Rank Amongst the Strongest Hurricanes?

Hurricane Matthew is projected to be the strongest Atlantic storm in nearly a decade, and could pose threats similar to that of Katrina and Sandy, according to CNBC. As of 5pm ET Thursday, Hurricane Matthew was approximately 100 miles east of West Palm Beach, with winds reaching up to 140 mph, according to USA Today. The Category 4 hurricane is expected to make landfall late Thursday evening in the Bahamas. Weather forecasters have warned residents of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina that this is a “life-threatening storm”, and will be the first major hurricane to hit the US since 2005. According to the Capital Weather Gang, the state of Florida could suffer billions of dollars in damages as a result of Matthew’s wrath.

By definition, Category 5 hurricanes are the strongest that can form on the planet, and only 31 tropical Atlantic cyclones have ever reached Category 5 strength. All 31 of these hurricanes were recorded between 1924 and 2016 (no category 5 hurricanes were officially reported before 1924.) Between 2000 and 2009, five Category 5 storms formed, which was more than any other decade– Isabel (2003), Ivan (2004), Emily (2005), Katrina (2005), Rita (2005), Wilma (2005), Dean (2007), and Felix (2007).

Alternatively, 95 hurricanes have achieved a Category 4 ranking since 1851, based on the Atlantic hurricane database, which can be accessed here. While Matthew is currently considered a Category 4 storm, according to the Weather Channel, it “may be a Category 4 or 5 hurricane before striking the Florida coast starting Thursday night.” According to WYFF4, the Great Galveston Hurricane in 1900 is considered the deadliest in US history– it hit the Texas coast as a Category 4 storm, and killed over 8,000 people.

On Thursday evening, The Weather Channel reported, “Hurricane Matthew, once again a Category 4 hurricane hammering the northwest Bahamas, is hours away from beginning a potentially catastrophic, rare Category 4, perhaps even Category 5 siege on Florida’s east coast, with dangerous storm surge, destructive winds and flooding rainfall stretching into Georgia and South Carolina by the weekend.”

Paul Walsh, a business analyst and meteorologist for The Weather Company, said that Matthew will “rank up there with Sandy, Katrina, and Andrew.” He also noted that since Wilma hit Florida in 2005, more than 4 million more people have moved to the area. “The area is much more built up. It’s much more populated. So the exposures are that much higher. This is a very, very risky situation.”

Approximately 1.5 million Floridians have been ordered to evacuate, and Governor Scott has deployed 3,500 National Guards troops to assist. USA Today reports Scott as saying “This storm will kill you”, and that emergency responders will not be sent to help residents who don’t evacuate.