The Last Category 5 hurricane to hit the United Stated occurred 17 years ago yesterday as Hurricane Andrew slammed into the south Florida Coast with sustained winds of 165 mph and wind gusts over 200 mph at times. The destruction this storm caused was in a word, incredible. Most of a hurricane's damage is caused by its storm surge, water that piles up on the right side of the storm's motion thanks to low pressure and strong winds. Hurricane Andrew caused incredible damage due to its strong wind field. The damage path across south Florida looked more like a 30 mile wide EF-3 tornado than a hurricane. I witnessed the damage first hand as I was traveling through Homestead Florida on the way to the Florida Keys in Late August of 1992. The destruction was like nothing I had ever seen. Every building on Homestead Air Force Base sustained major damage. Every Building! It looked as though south Florida had been hit by a nuclear bomb. My heart sank as we drove through neighborhoods where houses were gone and replaced by large tents to house the homeless. With military helicopters flying everywhere and the National Guard on the ground, it definitely looked like a war zone.
Andrew started as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa on August 14th. By the 17th the tropical wave became a tropical storm and was given the name of Andrew. Over the next few days Andrew battled dry air and some wind shear but maintained its tropical storm status. By the 22nd of August, Andrew reached hurricane status and began to rapidly intensify over the next 24 hours. On the morning of the 23rd Andrew became a strong category 4 hurricane with top winds of 155 mph, nearly a category 5 storm. As Andrew moved across the Bahamas, he weakened slightly with top winds of 150 mph, still a very strong category 4 hurricane. On the Early morning of the 24th, Andrew moved across the very warm waters of the Gulf Stream off the coast of South Florida. This set Andrew into a rapid intensification stage becoming a category 5 hurricane with top winds of 165 mph before hitting Elliott Key in Dade County Florida (now Miami-Dade County). As Andrew continued inland he continued to strengthen with the storm's structure reaching its top strength near Homestead, FL, about 20 miles inland.
Andrew became the costliest natural disaster to hit the United States until 13 years later when Katrina would devastate the Gulf Coast. Damage estimates for Andrew were around $25 billion. For the amount of destruction this storm caused the overall death toll was low, 23 in the United States (source NWS). The number of home destroyed by Andrew was 25,524 and 101,241 homes were damaged (source NWS).
For more photos from Hurricane Andrew check out my Blog.