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Hurricane Wilma was the twenty-second named storm, the thirteenth hurricane, and the sixth major hurricane of the record-breaking 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. Wilma is the most-intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin. Wilma devastated parts of the Yucatan Peninsula and South Florida in October of 2005, striking both areas as a major hurricane. Wilma was also only the third Category 5 hurricane to ever develop in the month of October in the Atlantic basin, and with Wilma's formation, it broke the previous record for the most activity in an Atlantic hurricane season, which was previously held by the 1933 Atlantic hurricane season. Technically, if you count the unnamed subtropical storm of 2005, Wilma was the twenty-second named storm of the season, which is why it beat 1933's previous record of 21 storms, even though the 'W' letter is only the 21st letter in the alphabet used for naming Atlantic hurricanes. Wilma was also the fourth Category 5 of the record-breaking season.


Wilma also made several landfalls, hitting the Yucatan Peninsula and Florida particularly hard. Wilma caused at least 63 deaths, and total damage is estimated to be over $28.9 billion, with a total of $29,000,000,000 in damage in the United States (2005 USD). This makes Wilma rank among the top 5 costliest Atlantic hurricanes in recorded history, and the third costliest United States hurricane.


Wilma at peak, record intensity on October 17
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Formation October 15, 2005
Dissipation October 25, 2005
Highest winds 185 mph
Lowest pressure 882 millibars
Deaths 23 direct, 40 indirect
Damages $28.9 billion (2005 USD)
Areas affected Haiti, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize, Yucatan Peninsula, Florida, Bahamas, Atlantic Canada

Meteorological History

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A large area of distrubed weather developed across much of the Carribean Sea, thanks to an upper-level low across the southwest Atlantic Ocean. On October 13, a broad area of low-pressure developed to the south of Jamaica, and slowly became more organized, as upper-level shear gradually decreased over the low. On October 14, Dvorak classifications began on the system, and by October 15, the surface circulation center, along with convection, became defined enough in the system for the National Hurricane Center to classify it as Tropical Depression Twenty-Four on October 15 while located 220 miles east-southeast of Grand Cayman. Due to the influence of two ridges to its north, the depression drifted slowly southwestward. With warm waters, as well as favorable upper-level conditions, the depression strengthened into Tropical Storm Wilma on October 17.


At first, development was slow to occur, due to the large size of the storm, as well as a flat pressure gradient. However, Wilma continued to gradually organize, and from October 18 to October 19, Wilma underwent explosive intensification, becoming a Category 5 hurricane on October 19. In just 30 hours, the pressure in the storm dropped from 982 mb to 882 mb, which is a record low barometric pressure for a tropical cyclone in the Atlantic basin, the previous record being held by Hurricane Gilbert of 1988, which had a minimum central pressure of 888 mb, respectively. After the explosive intensification, Wilma weakened, due to an eyewall replacement cycle. Wilma then turned to the northwest, staying at strong Category 4 intensity, after the outer 40 mile eyewall became the dominant eyewall. Late in the evening of October 21, Wilma made landfall on the island of Cozumel, and later on the mainland of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, as a strong Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds.


After landfall, Wilma stalled over the Yucatan Peninsula for about a 2-day period, weakening to a minimal hurricane as it emerged from the Yucatan Peninsula, and into the southern Gulf of Mexico. Upon emerging into the Gulf of Mexico, a powerful trough caused Wilma to move to the northeast, and also caused it to accelerate its foward speed. Despite increasing wind shear over the hurricane, the large eye of the hurricane remained well-organized, thus Wilma restrengthened into a 125 mph Category 3 hurricane before hitting the Florida coast near Cape Romana as a Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds, slightly down from the previous 125 mph winds. After exiting Florida near Jupiter and entering the Atlantic Ocean, Wilma was a Category 2 hurricane with 110 mph maximum sustained winds. Due to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, or possibly due to less friction of the eyewall, after exiting into the Atlantic Ocean, Wilma re-intensified to reach 125 mph winds as a Category 3 hurricane while over the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean.


However, after the restrengthening trend, wind shear and cold air penetrated the inner core of convection. On October 26, Wilma transitioned into an extratropical cyclone, and the next day, Wilma's remnants were absorbed by another extratropical storm over Atlantic Canada.


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Radar image of Wilma making landfall in South Florida.

Preparations

Yucatán Peninsula

In Quintana Roo, governments declared a red alert on the evening of October 19. Also, classes were suspended in the state's northern municipals and residents along coastal areas were told to take refuge further inland. Also, tourists in Cancún and its adjacent islands were told to return to their places of origin or to head inland, with the ones unable to leave being put in designated hurricane shelters throughout the city. In the Yucatan, which neighbors Cancún, classes were suspended in 18 coastal municipalities.

Central America

In Central America, civil organizations were ordered to make hurricane preparations in Nicaragua, while in El Salvador, the National Emergency Comittee was activated.


Cuba

In Cuba, preparations were made to evacuate the western provinces of the country, in anticipation of Wilma's impacts on the country. This included the Isle of Youth. In all, over 368,000 people were ordered to evacuate.

Florida

In Florida, a mandatory evacuation of residents was ordered for the Florida Keys in Monroe County and those in Collier County living west or south of US 41. Schools, courts, and county offices were closed on October 24. Also, least 300 Keys evacuees were housed at the Monroe County shelter at Florida International University, located in Miami-Dade County. Also, all Collier County public schools were closed on Friday, October 21. Schools remained closed on Monday, October 24, as Wilma made landfall. Schools around Fort Myers and Tampa were closed on Monday, October 24. Also, schools in Sumter, Pasco, Polk, and Marion counties were closed on Monday, October 24, as well. Also, schools in Palm Beach and Broward counties were closed for two weeks, thanks to extended power outages, as well as some structural damage to some school buildings.


Also, schools in Collier and Miami-Dade counties were closed for a little over a week, including the University of Miami. Also, orange juice futures reached the highest level in six years on Wednesday, October 19, 2005, closing up at 2.9 cents at $1.118 per pound. Also, as dynamical models put Wilma over Florida after its Yucatan Peninsula landfall, oil futures eased as worries of another direct hit on the oil producing regions of the Gulf of Mexico subsided. Also, professional hockey, and college and professional football games, were originally schedueled the weekend before Wilma's landfall, but had to be rescheduled further, due to Wilma's landfall. Finally, a concert by the rock band Nine Inch Nails, expected to take place on October 24, was postponed, and later cancelled. Also, Key West's Fantasy Fest that is typically held around each Halloween, was postponed until December, due to the threat of Wilma in the area.

Impact

Carribean

Wilma's impacts were felt in the Carribean, too, aside from the places it devastated the most. In Haiti, Wilma's outer rainbands triggered mudslides in the country, killing 12 people.


Also, in Jamaica, Wilma owned one person when it was a tropical depression. It smoked the island with heavy rainfall from October 16 to October 18, flooding several low-lying communities in the country, as well as triggering mudslides that blocked off roads and damaged several homes. Almost 250 people were in emergency shelters on the island of Jamaica, due to Wilma.


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Damage in Grand Cayman Island from Hurricane Wilma.


Mexico

In Mexico, Wilma claimed at least 8 lives. Two of these deaths occured in the Playa del Carmen area, due to a gas explosion caused by Wilma's strong winds. Also, four deaths were reported on the island of Cozumel, with another death occuring in Cancún, due to strong winds blowing a window out. Also, another death was reported in the state of Yucatan, due to a falling tree. Also, pictures, as well as television reports, indicated extensive structural damage in the Cancún area. They also indicated extensive flooding, as well as downed trees and power lines, as well as scattered debris. Also, several homes had collapsed. Also, rainfall amounts in excess of 23 inches were reported in several locations, with Isla Mujeres reporting rainfall as high as 64 inches -- five times what Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 dropped on the area. Also, waves five to eight meters high (high enough to reach the third floor of many hotels) battered the coastline. Also, one gymnasium used as a shelter had its roof torn off by the hurricane, forcing the evacuation of more than 1,000 people staying there.


On the island of Cozumel, damage was extensive, with many windows being broken, downed trees and power lines. Thankfully, Cozumel had less in the way of structural damage from the hurricane, with the damage being compared to that brought by Hurricane Emily earlier in the season, but Emily was a faster-moving storm than Wilma was. However, Emily was similar in intensity when it struck Cozumel. Communication was also initially limited, as electric and telephone services were completely out in the affected areas, although in downtown Cancún, some telephone communications remained intact, and the tourists in the city went out and risked their lives to contact their homes. Also, there were reports of extensive looting of many businesses in Quintana Roo, particularly in the city of Cancún. Also, after Wilma had passed, there was a sense of desperation that developed in the region, due to the fact that people were being held in shelters due to the extensive damage wrought by the powerful hurricane. Finally, the governor of Quintana Roo, Félix González Canto, stated in an interview that "Never in the history of Quintana Roo have we seen a storm like this."


Also, thousands of tourists remained stranded in shelters, with the priority being to send them home immediately, according to President Vicente Fox. Also, buses came into the city of Cancún from the city of Mérida, where tourists were hoping to find flights to get back to their homes. The United States embassy told tourists to go to Mérida, but the next day they had to change plans because the city of Mérida had become so packed with people. Also, the road trip to Mérida was very dangerous and impassable by Taxi. However, despite the $200 fee for the passage. Finally, Wilma's damaged severely damaged the Yucatan Peninsula's tourist industry, with Wilma affecting some of the tourist hot spots of Mexico. Total damage in Mexico totalled to $7.5 billion (2005 USD, $80 billion 2005 MXN), of which $4.6 billion (2005 USD, $50 billion 2005 MXN) being from agricultural damage.


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Wilma's eye over Cozumel.


Cuba

In Cuba, a bus that was carrying evacuees crashed, killing four people, which included three foreign tourists. Also, due to Wilma's storm surge, as well as heavy rainfall from the outer rainbands of the hurricane, coastal flooding was reported in many areas, particularly around Havana. Over 250 homes were heavily flooded by the hurricane, and rescuers required scuba gear, inflatable rafts, and amphibious vehicles to reach the most severely flooded areas of the country. Also, the city of Havana lost power due to Wilma, with winds as high as 85 mph being reported there, with this wind also causing some wind damage in the city. Officials in Cuba estimated the total damage from Wilma to be at about $700,000,000 (2005 USD).


Florida

In Florida, Wilma caused 35 deaths, with the storm being blamed for at least 26 indirect deaths in the United States. Damage from Hurricane Wilma was extensive, as well as widespread over South Florida, due to strong winds and flooding. After the hurricane had passed, a storm surge backwash of up to 8 feet occured, inundating a large portion of the lower Keys with floodwater. Also, the peak of the storm surge occured when the eye of Wilma had already passed over the Naples area, with the sustained winds being less than 40 mph during the peak surge of the hurricane.


Wilma also caused widespread destruction of critical infrastructure, which includes water, sewer, and power systems. Florida Power and Light, the largest electricity utility in the state of Florida, reported that more than 3,241,000 customers had lost power as a result of the hurricane, equivalent to approximately 6,000,000 people. Also, Broward and Palm Beach counties were hit hard by the many tornadoes in the western part of the hurricane. Also, in downtown Fort Lauderdale, there was significant damage to older buildings built before stricter building codes were implemented after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Also, the glass facades in a number of downtown buildings where sheared off by Wilma's strong winds. Damage in Florida totalled to $20.6 billion (2005 USD).

Bahamas

In the Bahamas, Wilma produced hurricane-force winds, as well as a powerful storm surge, which flooded southwestern coastal areas of Grand Bahama, destroying hundreds of buildings. Total damage in Grand Bahama is put at $100,000,000 (2005 USD), almost all of that occuring on the western half of Grand Bahama. The central portion of Grand Bahama, including locations in and around the city of Freeport, reported minor to moderate damage from the hurricane, while the eastern end of Grand Bahama received little to no damage. Also, one child died on the island from the flooding. Also, moderate damaged occured in Abaco and Bimini, with islands further to the south reporting minimal wind damage from the hurricane.


Naming and Records

This was the first time that the 'W' letter had been used to name a storm in the history of the Atlantic basin, since naming began in 1950. With the formation of Wilma, the 2005 season broke the record for most storms in a season, which was previously held by the 1933 Atlantic hurricane season (the reason for Wilma breaking the record for 21 storms, when it WAS the 21st storm, is due to the unnamed subtropical storm that occured in 2005 in early October. When Wilma became a hurricane on October 18, a total of 12 hurricanes had developed in the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, tying the record set in 1969 for most storms reaching hurricane strength in one season in the Atlantic basin. Also, Wilma's minimum central pressure of 882 mb, is currently the lowest pressure on record for a tropical cyclone in the Atlantic basin, as well as the lowest pressure measured for any cyclone in the Western Hemisphere.


Also, at peak intensity, the eye of Wilma was about 3 miles in diameter, the smallest known eye of an Atlantic hurricane. Also, the rainfall of 64 inches in Isla Mujeres set a new 24-hour rainfall record for the country of Mexico, and was the highest point total rainfall-wise recorded from a tropical cyclone since Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Wilma was the costliest Atlantic hurricane in Mexico, and the 2nd costliest natural disaster in Mexican history, behind only Hurricane Pauline in 1997, which caused $8.84 billion in damage. Finally, Wilma was the first 'W' storm retired by the World Meteorological Organization since naming began in the Atlantic basin in 1950.

Retirement

Due to the extreme damage it caused, the name Wilma was retired by the World Meteorological Organization in the Spring of 2006. It was replaced by Whitney for the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season.

References

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Wilma

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