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How Hurricane Ian stacks up in U.S. weather history

While Ian is not done impacting the United States, the storm’s strike on Florida already puts it in the record books

Boats are piled on top of each other after Hurricane Ian passed through the area on Thursday in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The devastation from Hurricane Ian’s direct hit in Southwest Florida is still being tallied, but the storm’s sheer force as it crashed into the coastline has already placed Ian in the upper echelon of hurricanes to strike the United States.

When Ian made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on Cayo Costa Island, it carried with it maximum sustained winds of 150 mph and a minimum central pressure of 940 millibars.

Ian became the 37th major hurricane — a designation reserved for storms of Category 3 intensity or greater — to have ever struck the state of Florida, and just the 15th to be rated a Category 4 or higher. Records of hurricane intensity date back to 1851.

By measure of sustained winds at landfall, Ian is in an eight-way tie for the fifth-strongest storm to strike the United States. Over the past two years, two other storms pummeled the United States with winds up to 150 mph: Hurricane Ida, which just last year carved a path of destruction from Louisiana to New York, and Hurricane Laura, which also slammed into Louisiana and brought with it a 17-foot storm surge.

How climate change is rapidly fueling super hurricanes

Another storm that packed 150 mph winds with it was Hurricane Charley, which made landfall in 2004 in nearly the exact same spot that Ian did — though Charley was significantly smaller when it careened into the coastline.

The strongest storm to ever strike the United States was the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, which came ashore in Florida with sustained wind speeds of 185 miles per hour — making it a high-end Category 5 storm. The storm also had a central pressure of 892 when it hit the coast, something that is extraordinarily rare in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, let alone at landfall.

Ian’s central pressure of 940 millibars put it in 18th-place historically — edged out by recent major hurricanes like Hurricane Harvey (937 millibars), Hurricane Ida (931 millibars), Hurricane Katrina (920 millibars) and Hurricane Michael (919 millibars).

When looking just at Florida, Ian enters a 3-way tie for the fourth strongest hurricane to ever make landfall in the state by maximum sustained winds, surpassed in order by the Labor Day Hurricane (185 mph), 1992′s Hurricane Andrew (165 mph) and 2018′s Hurricane Michael (160 mph).

By the measure of minimum central pressure, Ian becomes the ninth-strongest hurricane to ever hit Florida, surpassed by both historical cyclones and recent storms like Hurricane Andrew (922mb), Hurricane Michael (919 millibars) and Hurricane Irma (931 millibars).

While it is too early to tell where Ian will stack up in terms of lives lost — Florida has had a history of deadly hurricanes, with fatalities generally dropping in recent years due to improved building codes and much greater warning in advance of storms.

The deadliest storm in the modern record to strike Florida was the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928, which is estimated to have killed at least 2,500 people, with some estimates taking the death toll markedly higher, according to the National Weather Service.

Since 2000, the deadliest storms to have hit the state of Florida are Hurricane Irma, which killed 77 people when it made landfall in 2017; Hurricane Michael, which killed 50 people in 2020; Hurricane Frances, which killed 37 people in 2004 and Hurricane Charley, which killed 29, also in 2004.

It is also too early to tell if Ian will rank among the costliest hurricanes to hit the United States, but it seems likely to do so. According to NOAA, the top 5 costliest cyclones in U.S. history are Hurricane Katrina ($186.3 billion), Hurricane Harvey ($148.8B), Hurricane Maria ($107.1B), Hurricane Sandy ($81.9B) and Hurricane Ida ($78.7B). All of those storms, with the exception of Katrina, have struck the United States within the past 5 years.

How climate change is rapidly fueling super hurricanes

To be one of the 10 costliest hurricanes in U.S. history, Ian would have to beat or tie the $29 billion dollars in damage caused by Hurricane Michael, something early estimates suggest it could do. An analyst with Fitch Ratings estimated that insured cost losses in Florid could be anywhere from $25 to $40 billion, with more damage set to come along the Southeast coast when Ian makes landfall in South Carolina.

Speaking of South Carolina, if Ian makes landfall in the state as a hurricane as it is currently forecast to do on Friday afternoon, it will be the first storm to do so since 2016, when Hurricane Matthew made landfall in the state, according to Phillip Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University.

The last storm to make landfall in both Florida and South Carolina as a hurricane was Hurricane Charley in 2004.

Ian will be far from one of the strongest hurricanes to make landfall in South Carolina, though the storm is still quite hazardous. Ian’s massive size means it will bring widespread tropical-storm-force winds to both North Carolina and South Carolina.

Storm surge is also a threat for nearly the entire Southeast coastline, with 2-4 feet of surge expected from northern Florida to the surge-vulnerable Outer Banks, with 4-7 feet of surge forecast in South Carolina from Edisto Beach to Little River Inlet.

Ian regains hurricane strength and is poised to strike South Carolina

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