In past years, October has been riddled with sneaky storms that can quickly become monstrous.
Here we look back at seven of the most notable Atlantic hurricanes to strike in October.
Michael — 2018
Until 2018, only three Category 5 hurricanes had struck the Lower 48 since the beginning of the 20th century.
On Oct. 1, 2018, a weak area of low pressure began to form in the western Caribbean. It wasn’t overly impressive, and only produced a sputtering of thunderstorms during the next week. But on Oct. 7, a closed circulation was found inside the system — and Tropical Storm Michael was born.
Michael became a hurricane the next day, and rapid intensification quickly ensued. Michael then skimmed the western tip of Cuba as it continued to strengthen at an exceptional clip in the western Gulf, peaking at Category 5 intensity as it made landfall near Mexico Beach in the Big Bend of Florida on Oct. 10.
Hurricane Michael brought winds gusting over 160 mph, a storm surge of 16 feet, and significant destruction to trees and crops in a swath all the way north into Georgia. Michael’s remnants even brought damaging winds and heavy rains to the Mid-Atlantic, knocking out power to 600,000 in Virginia.
Among the incredible scenes produced by Michael was the crystal-clear eye at its center, which remained entirely devoid of cloud cover as the storm moved ashore. A few residents and storm chasers were able to capture imagery from inside the eye, which depicted a sunny, tranquil afternoon surrounded by deadly fury just a few miles away.
Sandy — 2012
Hurricane Sandy began as a tropical depression well south of Jamaica on Oct. 22, 2012. The system was named later that day, and Sandy became a hurricane shortly before making landfall in Kingstown on Oct. 24. It then briefly pulsed up to Category 2 strength before hitting Cuba on Oct. 25. Thereafter, Sandy embarked on its trek parallel to the southeast U.S. coast.
By Oct. 27, Sandy began its metamorphosis into an “extratropical” cyclone, or a storm system more typically seen at the mid-latitudes that draws its energy from a contrast in air masses, rather than warm ocean waters. On Oct. 28 and 29, Sandy’s wind field dramatically expanded, producing tropical storm-force winds across a swath 1,000 miles in diameter.
This was the largest such measurement observed in any National Hurricane Center’s Atlantic missions retrievable from their database, which extends back to 1988. Its enormous size meant that air pressure readings toward the middle of the storm bottomed out at record lows for many locations in the Mid-Atlantic.
Sandy was technically known as a post-tropical cyclone when it made landfall, but it was one of exceptional strength. The angle at which it struck the New Jersey coast — moving ashore at a 90-degree angle — pushed a massive storm surge into the Jersey Shore and southeastern New York, including New York City.
Sandy was the deadliest storm to make landfall in the United States since Katrina in 2005, with at least 130 fatalities. The storm led the National Weather Service to amend some of its policies to better apply to future Sandy-like storms that transition from purely tropical systems to ones that have nontropical characteristics.
Wilma — 2005
Hurricane Wilma in 2005 was the strongest hurricane measured in the Atlantic from an air pressure standpoint. Hurricanes are akin to whirlpools; the deeper the vortex and steeper the slope of the fluid spiraling into it, the faster the air flows into the middle. Because Wilma had such a “deep” air pressure, winds were able to scream into its center, giving rise to a vicious Category 5 maelstrom.
With maximum winds of 185 mph as it churned through the northwest Caribbean, Wilma appeared eerily on satellite with a pinhole eye in its center. The storm made landfall in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo as a Category 4 storm on Oct. 21. In Isla Mujeres, an island just offshore of Cancun, 64.33 inches of rain fell in a single day. That’s a record for the entire Western Hemisphere.
Three days later, Wilma swept across the Florida Peninsula after making landfall as a 120 mph Category 3 storm. The name was retired, and Wilma became the last hurricane of Category 3 intensity or above to strike the Lower 48 until Hurricane Harvey struck Texas in 2017.
Mitch — 1998
Hurricane Mitch began as a tropical wave on Oct. 22, 1998. Four days later, it was a beastly Category 5 in the western Caribbean. The storm curved south and rapidly weakened into a Category 1 storm before striking Honduras on Oct. 29.
Mitch’s winds were unimpressive, but its rainfall was devastating. Much like Harvey, Mitch illustrated that a storm could be disastrous even while “only” a tropical storm. A widespread three-plus feet of rain fell on varied terrain, with upward of 50 inches accumulating in nearby Nicaragua.
Mitch is estimated to be the deadliest Atlantic hurricane since 1780, with mudslides and severe flooding killing an estimated 9,000 or more. Thousands others were reported missing, and it’s likely the death toll was well over 11,000.
Hattie — 1961
Hurricane Hattie was a short-lived but intense hurricane that lurched to Category 5 status in late October 1961. The storm was named on Oct. 27, 1961, in the southwest Caribbean. 80 mph winds were reported on San Andres Island, and the storm was reclassified as a hurricane.
Over the coming days, Hattie intensified, and it became a Category 5 on Oct. 30 well southwest of the Cayman Islands. It made landfall the next day as a 140 mph beast just south of Belize City, Belize.
Crew aboard a pair of U.S. Navy destroyers reported that communities were “85 percent destroyed,” and virtually everything was damaged. The power grid was mangled and severed. Belize City was described as “nothing but a huge pile of matchsticks,” with vehicles reportedly trapped in nine to 15 feet of water.
The storm reportedly left 10,000 to 15,000 people homeless.
Hazel — 1954
Hazel developed east of the Windward Islands in early October 1954. On Oct. 5, a Weather Bureau aircraft mission assigned to investigate the reported disturbance found it to be a hurricane, and Hurricane Hazel was named. Hazel swept through Grenada with 75 mph winds before trekking westward through the Caribbean.
Hazel took a sharp right turn and intensified before attempting to weave between Haiti and Cuba, passing through the West Indies. After paralleling the northwest Bahamas, Hazel’s intensity began to ramp up. Eventually, it made landfall as a Category 4 storm along the North and South Carolina border Oct. 14.
In Washington, winds were sustained at 78 mph with a gust to 98 mph, the highest on record.
Hazel transitioned into a potent extratropical system, racing into Canada with strong wind gusts and very heavy rainfall. Roads and bridges were washed out, and severe flooding killed more than 100 Canadians.
King — 1950
King formed Oct. 13, 1950, off the north coast of Honduras. Over the following days it attained hurricane strength and crossed over Cuba before intensifying significantly southwest of the Andros Islands in the Bahamas.
It became a Category 4 hurricane with 130 mph winds, making landfall in the heart of Miami and causing a swath of severe damage. At the Weather Bureau’s Miami office, sustained winds of 122 mph were measured along with an estimated gust to 150 mph.