Record Breaking Category 5 Hurricane Headed Toward United States

Hurricane Matthew became the first Category 5 storm in the Atlantic in more than nine years. It was the capstone to a day of incredible intensification — the hurricane rapidly strengthened from a tropical storm on Thursday to a destructive force of nature on Friday.

Although a track east of the U.S. coastline looks most probable, Florida and the East Coast are most definitely not out of the woods yet and should be paying very close attention to Hurricane Matthew in the coming days.

There are a few interesting statistics and even a record to highlight. The last Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic was Felix in September 2007. The formation location, the track, and the intensification of Matthew all look remarkably similar to Felix, so far. That will change this weekend. Felix was also a bit stronger than Matthew, topping out at 150 knots (173 mph).

The long-term average return period of Category 5s is approximately once every five years, so that that nine-plus year span was long, but not quite a record. The longest span we could find was roughly 15 years, from 1938 to 1953.

At 11 p.m. last night, Matthew’s intensity was measured at 160 mph, and the eye diameter was just 14 miles. That means that if you’re a chunk of air in the eye wall, you’d make the entire trip around the eye wall in just 16 minutes.

Finally, Matthew did break a record. Capital Weather Gang’s tropical analyst Phil Klotzbach pointed out that Matthew is now the southernmost Category 5 on record. It trumped Hurricane Ivan by just 28 miles.

Here are some distinguishing stats on Matthew

  • It’s the farthest-south forming Cat 5 in recorded human history. Its orientation to the equator would typically slow the spinning motion needed to strengthen a hurricane. The Coriolis effect from Earth’s rotation is almost non-existent as you get close to the equator. Without that help, it’s harder for a system to develop.
  • Matthew strengthened overnight from a Cat 1 to a Cat 5 in an explosive example of rapid intensification.
  • Matthew is the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic basin in nearly a decade. Felix in 2007 was the last Cat 5.

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