And the strongest to ever sweep through the Florida panhandle.
Floridians certainly aren’t strangers to hurricanes. And yet, when Hurricane Michael made landfall just south of Panama City Beach on Wednesday afternoon, most residents had never seen anything like it—at least not in decades.
The monster storm is a heavyweight as far as hurricanes are concerned, with sustained winds hovering just below Category 5 territory. (Michael has sustained 155 mph winds; hurricanes become a Category 5 once winds reach 157 mph.) References to its wind speed drew immediate similarities to Hurricane Andrew, the Sunshine State’s most destructive hurricane, which made landfall as a Category 5 in 1992 with wind speeds of 165 mph.
But, while Andrew rivals Michael in its wind speeds, different sources put Michael as potentially more catastrophic. According to measurements of the storm’s central pressure—or how much the atmosphere in the middle of a storm weighs—Michael was a more intense storm when it made its entrance along the panhandle. Normal air pressure is around 1,000 millibars; when that number drops significantly, the atmosphere becomes much more turbulent. Michael’s minimum central pressure was measured at 919 millibars, while Andrew came in at 922.
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While models typically look at wind speeds to determine the amount of danger associated with a storm, one study published last year in the journal Nature Communications found that central pressure is a better indicator of the amount of damage a storm will cause.
Judging the potential damage of Hurricane Michael by its central pressure makes it the third strongest hurricane ever recorded, behind only Hurricane Camille in 1969 and the Labor Day hurricane of 1935. As Hurricane Michael continues on its path inland, it’s also expected to break records in Georgia as the first major Category 3 storm to hit the state in 120 years.