The new data makes the devastating storm one of only four Category 5 hurricanes in U.S. history, and the first since Andrew in 1992. 

By Marisa Spyker
Updated: April 19, 2019
The town of Mexico Beach, Florida, after Hurricane Michael tore through in 2018.
Scott Olson / Staff/Getty Images

When Hurricane Michael inched its way closer toward the sleepy Florida coastline last fall, residents braced for the worst. And, according to a new report from the National Hurricane Center, it appears they got it.

The monster storm made landfall on the Florida panhandle October 10, originally clocking in with wind speeds of 155 mph—or, a powerful category 4 hurricane. Now, scientists believe they underestimated Michael’s wrath, reclassifying the wind speeds to be 5 mph higher than initial calculations. Which means, with winds of 160 mph, Michael just became one of only four category 5 storms to ever make landfall in the U.S. (Hurricane Andrew was the last in 1992.)

“Category 5 winds were likely experienced over a very small area at and near the coast,” the hurricane center said in a statement.

The reclassification came after scientists analyzed wind speeds and other data that weren’t available during the actual storm, including aircraft winds, surface pressures, satellite intensity estimates and Doppler radar velocities. The new information easily boosted Michael into Category 5 territory, a club reserved for only the angriest and, inevitably, most destructive of storms.

Related: The Most Devastating Hurricanes in U.S. History: 

According to the National Hurricane Center, Michael is directly responsible for claiming 16 lives from Florida to North Carolina and causing $25 billion worth of damage. The once-sleepy town of Mexico Beach, nearly leveled after Michael passed over it, became the de facto symbol of the storm’s destruction.

Today—six months post-storm—the small town is still actively in recovery mode, with businesses rebuilding and visitors eager to return to their beloved vacation escape. “We are making steps every day,” Kimberly Shoaf, president of the Mexico Beach Community Development Council, told the Never Forgotten Coast campaign. “Trash piles are being picked up, people are moving back into their homes, and utilities are back online. Mexico Beach as a destination can write an even better story about its unique, coastal community, and how resilient we are and how we will come back better than before.”

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