Since the start of reliable record-keeping, there have only been around 40 Category 5 hurricanes that have traversed the Atlantic basin, but atmospheric conditions have allowed some to become record-breakers.
Most of the Category 5 storms involve traveling over the warm waters of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico to achieve their record status. A Category 5 cyclone is the highest level on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, and a cyclone must have sustained winds of at least 157 mph.
Hurricane Allen (1980) record wind holder
The highest reported winds during any storm was with Hurricane Allen back in 1980. The cyclone started in the central Atlantic and became a monster in the Caribbean. Due to a lack of land interference, sustained winds were estimated to have reached 190 mph as the hurricane entered the southeast Gulf of Mexico.
The hurricane made landfall in South Texas in a much-diminished state, but was still a major hurricane at the time of landfall.
Other cyclones that have topped the list of powerful winds include Dorian (2019), Wilma (2005), Gilbert (1988) and the Labor Day hurricane (1935).
Cyclones of these strengths produce catastrophic damage, leading to communities that are uninhabitable for months.
The Labor Day Hurricane (1935) produced the worst U.S. impacts
The Labor Day hurricane of 1935 is the only cyclone on the list that impacted the U.S. during its peak intensity.
Hurricane Wilma (2005) holds pressure record
While Allen holds the record for having the strongest winds, Wilma set the record for the lowest recorded pressure in basin history.
Hurricane Wilma had a measured minimum barometric pressure of 882 millibars and is even listed in the Guinness World Records.
The low pressure was observed by a dropsonde from a Hurricane Hunter aircraft while over the Caribbean Sea.
Despite the record low pressure, the hurricane’s winds only topped out around an estimated 185 mph.
Not all strong hurricanes produce catastrophic damage
All of the cyclone names have been retired by the World Meteorological Organization due to their impacts on land. However, if a strong hurricane would have bypassed land without major impacts, the name would still be in rotation.
Hurricane Lorenzo in 2019 became the year’s strongest storm, but because much of its impacts remained over the eastern Atlantic, it still remains on one of six rotating lists used in the Atlantic basin.
Winds were estimated to have reached 160 mph, and the lowest pressure reached around 925 millibars.
Hurricane Dorian (2019) is latest cyclone to make list
Dorian is the latest hurricane to make the list of most intense cyclones.
During the 2019 season, the hurricane peaked in intensity while making landfall in the Bahamas. Sustained winds were estimated to have reached 185 mph with a central barometric pressure of 910 millibars.
The cyclone became the costliest storm ever to hit the Bahamas, and after a glancing blow to the Eastern Seaboard, damage estimates topped $5 billion.