Hurricane Wilma was the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, and the second-most intense tropical cyclone recorded in the Western Hemisphere, after Hurricane Patricia in 2015. Part of the record-breaking 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, which included three of the ten most intense Atlantic hurricanes ever (along with #4 Rita and #7 Katrina), Wilma was the twenty-second storm, thirteenth hurricane, sixth major hurricane, fourth Category 5 hurricane, and the second-most destructive hurricane of the 2005 season. A tropical depression formed in the Caribbean Sea near Jamaica on October 15, headed westward, and intensified into a tropical storm two days later, which abruptly turned southward and was named Wilma. Wilma continued to strengthen, and eventually became a hurricane on October 18. Shortly thereafter, explosive intensification occurred, and in only 24 hours, Wilma became a Category 5 hurricane with wind speeds of 185 mph (298 km/h).
|Category 5 major hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)|
|Formed||October 16, 2005|
|Dissipated||October 27, 2005|
|(Extratropical after October 26)|
|Highest winds||1-minute sustained: 185 mph (295 km/h) |
|Lowest pressure||882 mbar (hPa); 26.05 inHg|
(Record low in the Atlantic basin)
|Damage||$27.4 billion (2005 USD)|
|Areas affected||Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba, Cayman Islands, Central America, Southeast Mexico, East Coast of the United States (mainly in South Florida), Bahamas, Atlantic Canada, Europe|
|Part of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season|
Wilma's intensity slowly leveled off after becoming a Category 5 hurricane, and winds had decreased to 150 mph (240 km/h) before it reached the Yucatán Peninsula on October 20 and 21. After crossing the Yucatán, Wilma emerged into the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 2 hurricane. As it began accelerating to the northeast, gradual re-intensification occurred, and the hurricane was upgraded to Category 3 status on October 24. Shortly thereafter, Wilma made landfall in Cape Romano, Florida with winds of 120 mph (190 km/h). As Wilma was crossing Florida, it briefly weakened back to a Category 2 hurricane, but again re-intensified as it reached the Atlantic Ocean. The hurricane intensified into a Category 3 hurricane for the last time, before weakening while accelerating northeastward. By October 26, Wilma transitioned into an extratropical cyclone southeast of Nova Scotia.
Wilma made several landfalls, with the most destructive effects felt in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, Cuba, and the U.S. state of Florida. At least 62 deaths were reported and damage totaled to $27.4 billion, of which $19 billion occurred in the United States. After Wilma, no other major hurricane made landfall in the contiguous United States until Hurricane Harvey made landfall in southern Texas on August 26, 2017, ending a record period of 11 years 10 months. During this time, major Atlantic hurricanes occurred slightly more frequently than average; they just did not make landfall in the United States. Also, after Wilma, no hurricane struck the state of Florida until Hurricane Hermine did so nearly 11 years later in 2016, and no major hurricane struck Florida until nearly 12 years later when Hurricane Irma made landfall in early September 2017.
During mid-October 2005, a large area of disturbed weather developed across much of the Caribbean Sea, as a lower-tropospheric low interacted with a broad area of disturbed weather, aided by an upper-level low across the region. A broad area of low pressure developed on October 13 to the southeast of Jamaica, and slowly became more concentrated as upper-level wind shear gradually decreased. Dvorak classifications began on October 14, and by late October 15 the surface circulation in the system became well enough defined, with sufficiently organized deep convection, for the National Hurricane Center to designate the system as Tropical Depression Twenty-Four while located about 220 mi (350 km) east-southeast of Grand Cayman.
The depression drifted southwestward because of the influence of two ridges to its north and with warm sea surface temperatures and a favorable upper-level environment, it strengthened into Tropical Storm Wilma on October 17. Initially, development was slow, due to the large size of the storm and a flat pressure gradient. However, convection gradually organized, and from October 18 through October 19, Wilma underwent explosive deepening over the open waters of the Caribbean Sea. Around 12:00 UTC on October 18, the system intensified into a hurricane. In a 30‑hour period, the pressure dropped from 982 mbar (hPa; 29.00 inHg) to the record-low of 882 mbar (hPa; 26.05 inHg), while the winds increased to 185 mph (295 km/h). During its intensification on October 19, the hurricane's eye shrank to as small as 2.3 mi (3.7 km) in diameter, becoming the smallest eye ever seen in a tropical cyclone.
On October 20, Wilma weakened below Category 5 intensity due to an eyewall replacement cycle, began to turn towards the northwest, and further slowed its movement. Late on October 21, Wilma made landfall on the island of Cozumel, Quintana Roo, at around 21:45 UTC with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph (240 km/h) and then again made a second landfall on the Mexican mainland six hours later and only slightly weaker. Wilma continued to drift slowly towards the north over the Yucatán Peninsula, although it weakened to a moderate hurricane while over land, it reemerged over the southern Gulf of Mexico on October 23 around 00:00 UTC. Despite Wilma spending 24 hours over land, it reemerged with little intensity lost, and began to re-intensify shortly after. This was perhaps due to its large size and because the majority of its circulation remained over the warm waters of the northwest Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. A powerful trough turned the hurricane to the northeast and accelerated its forward motion. Its large eye remained well-organized, and Wilma intensified, despite increasing amounts of wind shear, briefly producing winds of 125 mph (200 km/h), before making landfall on Cape Romano, Florida, as a 120 mph (195 km/h) major hurricane.
Wilma crossed the state in about 4.6 hours and weakened to a Category 2 hurricane, with winds of 110 mph (175 km/h), after entering the Atlantic Ocean near Jupiter, Florida. Key West received several feet of water in the low-lying areas and flooded homes. The Lower Keys also experienced an unusual flood: it occurred twice. First, as the storm approached Florida, it pushed water across the keys from south to north. As the storm finally crossed into the Everglades, all the water that had been pushed by the storm was released as Wilma crossed the peninsula. The water then raced back across the Lower Keys a second time and went back out to sea. This caused additional flooding and costly damage. Possibly due to less friction of the eyewall or moving over warm waters of the Gulf Stream, Wilma again re-intensified to reach winds of 125 mph (200 km/h) and subsequently absorbed Tropical Storm Alpha to the south, before cold air and wind shear penetrated the inner core of convection. On October 26, Wilma transitioned into an extratropical cyclone, and on the next day, the remnants of Wilma were absorbed by another extratropical storm over Atlantic Canada.
Cayman Islands and Central America
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued many tropical cyclone warnings and watches throughout Wilma's duration. At 09:00 UTC on October 16, a hurricane watch and tropical storm warning were posted for the Cayman Islands. A tropical storm warning was issued in Honduras from the border with Nicaragua westward to Cabo Camaron at 15:00 UTC on October 17. The hurricane watch and tropical storm warning for the Cayman Islands were both discontinued at 18:00 UTC on October 19. In Belize, another tropical storm warning became in effect at 15:00 UTC on October 19 from the border with Mexico to Belize City. On October 21, the tropical storm warning in Honduras was discontinued at 03:00 UTC, while the other in Belize was canceled twelve hours later.
Quintana Roo government officials declared a red alert on the evening of October 19. Classes were suspended in the state's northern municipalities and residents of coastal areas were advised to take refuge farther inland; tourists in the resort city of Cancún and its adjacent islands were told to return to their places of origin or head inland while those unable to were relocated to designated hurricane shelters throughout the city. In neighboring Yucatán, classes were also suspended in 18 coastal municipalities.
In Cuba, a hurricane watch was issued from Matanzas Province westward to Pinar del Río Province and Isla de la Juventud at 21:00 UTC on October 18. Early on October 20, a tropical storm warning was posted for La Habana, Ciudad de La Habana, and Pinar del Río provinces. The hurricane watch was upgraded to a hurricane warning for Ciudad de la Habana, La Habana, and Pinar del Rio provinces at 21:00 UTC on October 22. All warnings and watches for Cuba were discontinued late on October 24.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued many tropical cyclone warnings and watches in Florida, beginning with a hurricane watch in Florida Keys including Dry Tortugas and Florida Bay at 15:00 UTC on October 22. Six hours later, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued another hurricane watch for the west coast of Florida south of Longboat Key and on the east coast of Florida to the south of Titusville, including Lake Okeechobee. At 21:00 UTC on October 23, a tropical storm watch was put into effect on the west coast from Longboat Key northward to the Steinhatchee River and on the east coast from Titusville northward to Fernandina Beach. Early the following day, the hurricane watch was upgraded to a hurricane warning on the west coast and on the east coast from Jupiter Inlet southward, including Lake Okeechobee.
The hurricane warning along the east coast stretching from the Jupiter Inlet southward was extended northward to Titusville at 09:00 UTC on October 23. Simultaneously, the portion of the tropical storm watch from Titusville to Flagler Beach was upgraded to a tropical storm warning. The tropical storm warning was extended further northward to St. Augustine at 03:00 UTC on October 24. Twelve hours later, the tropical storm watch was discontinued from St. Augustine to Fernandina Beach. At 17:00 UTC, the tropical storm warning from Longboat Key to the Steinhatchee River was canceled. The remainder of the hurricane warning in effect was downgraded to a tropical storm warning about 90 minutes later. By 21:00 UTC on October 24, all remaining tropical cyclone warnings and watches were discontinued.
A mandatory evacuation of residents was ordered for the Florida Keys in Monroe County and those in Collier County living west or south of US 41. County offices, schools and courts were closed October 24. At least 300 Keys evacuees were housed at the Monroe County shelter at Florida International University in Miami-Dade County. All Collier County public schools closed on October 21 and remained closed on October 24, as the hurricane made landfall. Schools around Fort Myers and Tampa, as well as Sumter, Marion, Osceola, Pasco, and Polk counties, were closed on October 24. In other areas of Central Florida, schools were closed in Flagler, Lake, Orange, and Volusia counties. Schools in Palm Beach and Broward counties were closed for two weeks because of extended power outages and some damage to school buildings. Schools in Collier and Miami-Dade counties were closed for a little over a week, including the University of Miami.
Orange juice futures reached the highest level in six years on October 19, closing up 2.9 cents at US$1.118 per pound. As dynamic models moved the storm's track east over Florida, oil futures eased as worries of another direct hit on the oil-producing regions of the Gulf of Mexico subsided. College and professional hockey games scheduled the weekend before Wilma's landfall were rescheduled for a later time. The professional football game scheduled for Sunday was moved ahead to Friday night. A concert by the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, expected to have taken place October 24, was postponed and later cancelled. Key West's Fantasy Fest held around each Halloween was postponed until December.
At 12:00 UTC on October 23, about 24 hours before Wilma made its closest approach to the archipelago, the government of The Bahamas issued a hurricane warning for the northwestern portion of the territory, including the Abacos, Andros Island, Berry Islands, Bimini, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama, and New Providence. The government of The Bahamas advised citizens to rush preparations to completion, though many failed to fully prepare, believing Wilma would pass through the region as a tropical storm. Many homes failed to board windows or apply hurricane shutters, as well. Officials ordered evacuations for the eastern and western portion of Grand Bahama island, and established multiple shelters on the island. Evacuations were minimal; it is estimated that between 300 and 1,000 people left. As most people failed to prepare sufficiently for the hurricane, hardware stores and food markets were generally well-stocked.
|The Bahamas||1||$100 million|
|United States||62||$19 billion|
Wilma was responsible for 87 total deaths and almost $27.4 billion (2005 US$) in damages.
Wilma caused one death in Jamaica as a tropical depression on October 16. It pounded the island for three days ending on October 18, flooding several low-lying communities and triggering mudslides that blocked roads and damaged several homes. Almost 250 people were in emergency shelters on the island. Damage on the island totaled $93.5 million (2005 USD).
At least eight deaths were reported in Mexico. Five were in the Playa del Carmen area due to a gas explosion caused by the strong winds. Four deaths also were reported in Cozumel and another in Cancún due to wind blowing a window out. Another death, caused by a falling tree, was reported in the state of Yucatán.
Pictures and television reports indicated extensive structural damage throughout the Cancún area, as well as significant flooding and many downed trees, power lines and scattered debris. Several homes had also collapsed. Rainfall amounts in excess of 23 inches (590 mm) were reported in several areas, with Isla Mujeres reporting 64 inches (1,625.6 mm)—five times what Hurricane Gilbert dropped. The station recorded 64.33 inches (1,633.98 mm) over 24 hours, setting a western hemisphere record for the greatest rainfall in that time period. One gymnasium used as a shelter lost its roof, which forced the evacuation of more than 1,000 people staying there. During the storm, waves five to eight meters high (enough to reach the third floor of many hotels) slammed against the coastline. Damage was extensive as well on Cozumel, with many broken windows, fallen trees and power lines, but less structural damage. It was comparable to the scene after Hurricane Emily back in July 2005, a storm of similar intensity at landfall, but faster moving.
Communication was initially limited, as telephone and electric services were completely out in the affected areas; however, in downtown Cancún, some telephone communications remained intact, and tourists went out and risked their lives to contact home. There were also extensive reports of looting of many businesses in Quintana Roo, particularly in Cancún.
After Wilma passed, a sense of desperation developed in the region because people were being held in shelters due to the extensive damage. Thousands of tourists remained stranded in shelters, and the priority was to send them home immediately, according to President Vicente Fox. Buses arrived in Cancún from Mérida, where tourists were hoping to find flights home. The United States embassy told tourists to go to Mérida, although the next day they had to change their announcements because Mérida had become so packed with people. The road to Mérida was very dangerous and practically impassable for taxis, yet people dealt with the exorbitant fees being charged for passage.
The destruction left behind by Wilma in the Yucatán severely damaged the tourist industry there, as the storm affected some of the tourist hot spots of Mexico. Damage in Mexico totaled $7.5 billion (2005 USD, $80 billion 2005 MXN), of which $4.6 billion (2005 USD, $50 billion 2005 MXN) was from agricultural damage.
Coastal flooding caused by Wilma's storm surge and flooding from the outer bands was reported in many areas, particularly around Havana. More than 250 homes were heavily flooded and rescuers required scuba gear, inflatable rafts, and amphibious vehicles to reach the most severely flooded areas. Havana was also without power and wind damage was reported as a result of winds up to 85 mph (140 km/h). Officials in Cuba estimated total damage to be about $700 million.
At least five hurricane-related deaths were reported in the United States, all in Florida, and there were at least 26 deaths indirectly related to Wilma. Damage from Wilma was extensive and widespread over South Florida due to winds and flooding. After the hurricane had passed, a storm surge from the backwash of up to 8 ft (2.4 m) from the Gulf of Mexico inundated a large portion of the lower Keys. The peak of the storm surge occurred when the eye of Wilma had already passed over the Naples area, and the sustained winds during the surge were less than 40 mph (64 km/h).
Hurricane Wilma caused widespread destruction of critical infrastructure, including power, water and sewer systems. Florida Power and Light, the largest electricity utility in the state, reported more than 3,241,000 customers had lost power, equivalent to approximately 6,000,000 people, with most residents getting power restored in 8–15 days. Running water was restored for most residents within 2 days. Most notably in downtown Fort Lauderdale, there was significant damage to older buildings, including the Broward County Courthouse, School Board Building and taller area office buildings built before the implementation of stricter building codes after Hurricane Andrew. The glass facades in a number of downtown buildings, notably the Templeton Building, were sheared off by high winds. Large waves struck the Florida Panhandle while Wilma was making landfall in south Florida.
Few reports of effects from Hurricane Wilma exist in the United States outside of Florida, with minimal impact other than rain recorded in other states. Rainfall had extended into Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia; only a few areas had observed rain greater than two inches (51 mm). Although only one–two inches (25–51 mm) were reported in Georgia and South Carolina, Hurricane Wilma dropped approximately three inches (76 mm) of rain on the Outer Banks of North Carolina on October 25.
In Connecticut, strong winds felled tree limbs, trees, and electrical wires, resulting in scattered power outages in Ashford, Pomfret, and Wethersfield. Rainfall of 2 to 3 inches (51 to 76 mm) in Litchfield County caused the Housatonic River to reach a crest of 7.18 ft (2.19 m) at Falls Village late on October 26. Minor flooding was reported in the county. Strong winds in Rhode Island knocked down a large tree onto Interstate 95 in Providence, blocking a few northbound lanes. Additionally, several trees, power lines, and tree limbs were downed in Exeter, Tiverton, West Greenwich, and Woonsocket.
In Massachusetts, there was between 2 and 2.5 in (51 and 64 mm) of rain, damaging winds, and coastal flooding in the eastern half of the state. Wind gusts between 44 and 47 mph (71 and 76 km/h) were common, with a gust as strong as 66 mph (106 km/h) was recorded at the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory in Milton. The strong winds downed limbs, trees, and wires, resulting in thousands of people without power. In addition, a trailer was blown over on the Bourne Bridge. A tree struck a car in Fall River, while trees fell on houses in Boxford and in Peabody. In Bridgewater, several power poles and trees were toppled. The Green Line trains were blocked in Newton after a tree fell at the Riverside Station. The towns of Hull, Marblehead, Marshfield, Nantucket, Salem, Scituate experienced coastal flooding. Several boats broke from their moorings and washed ashore.
The remnants of Wilma and the nor'easter brought snowfall to southern Vermont from October 25 to 26. Up to 20 in (510 mm) of snow was accumulated at higher elevations. In Maine, wind gusts between 55 and 65 mph (89 and 105 km/h) occurred near the coast, particularly in the Down East region. The combination of strong winds and saturated ground from prior heavy rainfall over a period of several weeks caused trees and many branches to topple. These falling trees and limbs downed many power lines, resulting in numerous electrical outages. Farther inland, the two systems left 3 to 8 in (76 to 203 mm) of snow in many areas and localized totals of 12 to 16 in (300 to 410 mm) across higher terrain. The snow brought down trees and power lines, leaving about 25,000 customers lost power for varying amounts of time during the storm.
While passing the Bahamas, the hurricane produced hurricane-force winds and a powerful storm surge, flooding southwestern coastal areas of Grand Bahama and destroying hundreds of buildings. In western settlements on the island of Grand Bahama, graves were washed up with skeletal remains lying in the streets. Damage totaled about $100 million (2005 USD, $105 million 2007 USD), almost entirely on the western half of the island. The central portion of Grand Bahama, including in and around Freeport, reported minor to moderate damage, while the eastern end received little to no damage. One child died on the island from the flooding. Elsewhere in the Bahamas, moderate damage occurred on Bimini and Abaco, while islands farther to the south reported minimal wind damage.
Wilma struck the Bahamas during the filming of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, destroying service roads and overturning several trailers. The two principal ships, the Black Pearl and The Flying Dutchman, were relatively undamaged and the cast and crew were evacuated on the Friday before the hurricane hit.
Florida's sugar industry was greatly affected; the cropping had already started and had to be halted indefinitely. Damage to sugarcane crops was critical and widespread. Citrus canker spread rapidly throughout southern Florida following Hurricane Wilma, creating further hardships on an already stressed citrus economy due to damage from Wilma and previous years' hurricanes. Citrus production estimates fell to a low of 158 million boxes for the 2005–2006 production seasons from a high of 240 million for 2003–2004.
In January 2006, artists were invited to exhibit sculptures inspired by the storm in an outdoor exhibit at Fort Zachary Taylor near the new NWS hurricane and weather forecasting center in Key West, Florida.
The popular Mexican resort towns of Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, and Cancún all suffered significant damage from Wilma, causing a major loss of tourism income. The MTV Video Music Awards Latin America 2005 was to be held October 19 at the Xcaret Eco Park (close to Playa del Carmen) in Quintana Roo, Mexico. The 2005 edition of these awards was postponed, however, because of the approach of Hurricane Wilma toward the Mexican Riviera Maya. MTV had moved the date from October 20 to 19 in an attempt to avoid the hurricane, but eventually decided to cancel the show. The 2005 edition eventually took place using a modified format on December 22.
The United States offered emergency aid to Cuba, and to the surprise of the State Department, the Cuban government accepted. Many times in the past, including during Hurricane Dennis, the United States offered aid, but the Cuban government declined. The State Department sent three damage assessors to Havana to determine their needs.
Records and naming
|Most intense Atlantic hurricanes|
The storm was named "Wilma," the first time the 'W' name was used in the Atlantic Basin, since alphabetical naming began in 1950. With Wilma, the 2005 hurricane season broke the record for most storms in a season, previously held by the 1933 season. Moving slowly over warm water with little wind shear, Wilma strengthened steadily and became a hurricane on October 18. The thirteenth hurricane of the season, Wilma broke the record set in 1969 for most storms of hurricane strength in one season for the Atlantic Basin.
The barometric pressure measured in Wilma, 882 mbar (26.05 inHg), is currently the lowest recorded pressure for a tropical cyclone in the Atlantic Basin, as well as the second-lowest pressure for any cyclone measured in the Western Hemisphere, only after Hurricane Patricia ten years later in the Eastern Pacific. It also reached its 882 mbar (26.05 inHg) pressure in a span of 24 hours, making it the fastest pressure drop of any storm in the Atlantic Basin, although Hurricane Felix of 2007 reached a greater windspeed rise in 51 hours. At its peak intensity, the eye of Wilma was about 2.3 miles (3.7 km) in diameter, the smallest known eye of a tropical cyclone. In Mexico, Isla Mujeres reported 64 inches (1,625.6 mm) of rainfall—five times what Hurricane Gilbert dropped. This set a 24-hour rainfall record for the country of Mexico, and was the highest point total for rainfall from a tropical cyclone since Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Wilma is also the costliest hurricane in Mexican history.
Wilma was the first retired "W" name since the World Meteorological Organization started retiring names in 1954; it was the strongest Atlantic hurricane to be retired, and when it was retired, it made 2005 the season with the most retired names, with five; the old record was a three-way tie with four names retired in 1955, 1995, and 2004. Wilma was replaced with the name Whitney. Had the unnamed 2005 Azores subtropical storm been operationally recognized, it would have been named Subtropical Storm Tammy, and storms forming after October 4 would have been moved one name down the list. Wilma would have consequently been given the name Alpha, in accordance with the convention to name tropical cyclones after the Greek alphabet if the scheduled list of names runs out. Had Wilma been named Alpha, it could not have been retired, as the World Meteorological Association determined that it "was not practical to 'retire into hurricane history' a letter in the Greek Alphabet."
- List of 2005 Atlantic hurricane season storms
- List of Atlantic hurricanes
- List of Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes
- List of Florida hurricanes (2000–present)
- List of natural disasters in Haiti
- List of wettest tropical cyclones
- Timeline of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season
- Hurricane Irma
- Typhoon Forrest (1983)
- Typhoon Hagibis (2019)
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hurricane Wilma.|
- Tropical Cyclone Report on Hurricane Wilma.
- The NHC's archive on Hurricane Wilma.
- Storm chaser George Kourounis documents the eye of Hurricane Wilma
- U.S. Rainfall for Hurricane Wilma from HPC
- Wilma pictures, satellites images
- The Disaster Center's Coverage of Hurricane Wilma