How Idalia Ranks Among the Most Powerful Hurricanes of All Time

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Hurricane Idalia made landfall close to Keaton Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast yesterday. It briefly was upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane before being downgraded back to Category 3. More than 200,000 Floridians and nearly 300,000 Georgians are without power as Idalia, now a tropical storm, moves out into the Atlantic. At landfall, the storm had maximum sustained winds of 125 mph and a central pressure of 949 mb. Those numbers make it not only one of the most powerful hurricanes on record to strike Florida, but one of the worst in American history.  

To determine the most powerful hurricanes of all time, 24/7 Wall St. used data from NOAA dating back to 1851 to rank tropical cyclones based on estimated central pressure at time of landfall for all hurricanes. Hurricanes were ranked according to their minimum pressure in millibars, where one millibar is the equivalent of 100 pascals in pressure. The lower a storm’s minimum pressure, the stronger the storm is. For context, air pressure is 1,013 millibars at sea level. The storms on this list had minimum pressure of 950 millibars or lower.

The frequency of tropical cyclones in a given year is rarely an indication of how intense the hurricanes may be when they make landfall — that is, how destructive they can be. Some of the most powerful storms, like Hurricane Andrew in 1992, for example, hit during one of the slower hurricane seasons of the past several decades. The strength of a hurricane is difficult to accurately predict, and the most intense storms on record vary heavily by decade, deadliness, and destructiveness.

In addition to high winds, hurricanes can batter areas with heavy rainfall, storm surges, and inland flooding. Many of the storms on this list have been the catalyst for some of the worst floods in American history.

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