NOAA Upgrades Hurricane Michael to Category 5, the 4th in US History

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's GOES-East captured this image of Hurricane Michael as it came ashore near Mexico Beach, Florida on Oct. 10, 2018. According to the National Hurricane Center, Michael intensified before landfall with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph, heavy rainfall, and deadly storm surge. NOAA image.

Hurricane Michael, the massive storm that directly hit Tyndall Air Force Base and the Florida Panhandle in October, has been upgraded to a Category 5 storm—the first to make landfall in the US since Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Friday that post-storm analysis completed recently estimated the storm brought sustained winds of 160 mph, a 5 mph increase over initial estimates that upgraded the storm’s category on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

The storm is responsible for 16 deaths and about $25 billion in total damage. The Air Force is still assessing the extent of damage to Tyndall, and estimates it will need $1.2 billion in fiscal 2019 and $3.7 billion across 2020 and 2021 to begin to recover both at at the Florida base and from flooding that hit Offutt AFB, Neb., last month. NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information estimates Tyndall sustained about $3 billion worth of damage.

The NOAA post-storm analysis states that the worst of the damage from the storm occurred at Tyndall and nearby Mexico Beach, where 1,584 buildings out of 1,692 in that town were damaged and 809 of those were destroyed.

“While exact numbers are not available from the Tyndall AFB, every building was reported damaged with many destroyed,” the analysis states.

Hurricane Andrew also directly hit an Air Force base directly, causing so much damage that Homestead AFB, Fla., was largely downsized and reopened as a Reserve base. Tyndall will see long-term changes to its mission following the storm, with the Air Force realigning the base’s F-22s to other bases. Tyndall will host F-35s beginning in 2023. The base’s 1st Air Operations Center, the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group, and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center will all remain.

Michael is now the fourth Category 5 storm to make landfall in the US, with the other two being Hurricane Camille in 1969 and the Labor Day Hurricane in 1935, according to NOAA.