How Hurricane Wilma Bounced Back to Batter Florida

Willie Drye
for National Geographic News
October 25, 2005

As Hurricane Wilma pelts the U.S. Northeast with winds and rain, more than six million Florida residents are without power today and picking up the pieces from the eighth powerful hurricane to strike the state since August 2004.

Florida residents had been expecting winds of perhaps 110 miles (177 kilometers) an hour, so Wilma's power when it came ashore yesterday at Cape Romano on Florida's southwest coast surprised many people.

"I kept thinking, What happened to the weakening storm?" said Palm Beach Post reporter Eliot Kleinberg, author of Black Cloud: The Deadly Hurricane of 1928.

Wilma was a cantankerous and unpredictable storm almost from the moment it began as a tropical depression in the Caribbean Sea on October 15. During the next ten days it would cut a swath of destruction from Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula to Florida.

The storm's resurgence was difficult to foresee, because Wilma managed to avoid obstacles—such as land and a jet stream—that would have weakened any normal hurricane.

Record Breaker

On October 17, while it was still in the Caribbean, Wilma became the most powerful hurricane ever to form in the Atlantic Ocean. Its winds reached 175 miles (282 kilometers) an hour, and its barometric pressure dropped to 26.04 inches, or 882 millibars.

A hurricane's barometric pressure is a highly reliable indicator of its intensity. Extremely powerful hurricanes such as Wilma have very low barometric pressure readings.

Wilma had lost some of its strength by the time it reached the Yucatán Peninsula on October 21. But the storm still pounded Mexico for two days with winds as strong as 145 miles (233 kilometers) an hour and about 5 feet (150 centimeters) of rainfall.

Sticking to Its Power Source

Keith Blackwell is a hurricane researcher at the University of South Alabama's Coastal Weather Research Center in Mobile. He said Wilma's landfall on the Yucatán Peninsula could easily have weakened the storm quite a bit. But the hurricane didn't push very far inland.

A part of the storm's circulation stayed over the water—a hurricane's power source—during its lingering, destructive Mexican visit.

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