In the past 24 hours Hurricane Patricia, bearing down on Mexico’s west coast, has rapidly intensified to become the strongest storm ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere. As of this morning, data from Air Force planes show peak winds (sustained for one minute) of 200 mph and a surface pressure bottoming out at 880 millibars (typical pressure at sea level is 1013 millibars). The numbers push Patricia past the former record holders: Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and Hurricane Gilbert in 1988.
On Friday morning the National Hurricane Center said Patricia’s winds could rise to 205 mph as it hits Mexico’s shores, which would be the highest landfall reading ever, worldwide. When “super typhoon” Haiyan struck the Philippines in 2013 winds were 195 mph.
In contrast, the lowest pressure reading (the real measure of intensity) for Katrina, when it peaked in the Gulf of Mexico before drowning New Orleans, was 902 millibars. The low point for Sandy, which clobbered New York City and New Jersey, was 940. It is important to note that the extreme readings often occur when storms are still at sea, and frequently lessen before landfall—although that may not be the case for Patricia. Katrina’s top winds when it crossed the Gulf Coast were 125 mph, and when Sandy landed on New York City winds peaked at 94 mph.
Here, then, are the numbers for the Western Hemisphere’s strongest and most infamous hurricanes:
Patricia (2015): Top wind speed 200 mph; lowest atmospheric pressure 880 millibars. Threatening Mexico West Coast.
Wilma (2005): Top wind speed 185 mph; lowest atmospheric pressure 882 millibars. Struck Yucatan Peninsula and Florida.
Gilbert (1988): Top wind speed 185 mph; lowest atmospheric pressure 888 millibars. Struck Caribbean, Yucatan Peninsula, Texas.
Katrina (2005): Top wind speed 175 mph; lowest atmospheric pressure 902 millibars. Struck Gulf Coast.
Sandy (2012): Top wind speed 115 mph; lowest atmospheric pressure 940 millibars. Struck U.S. East Coast.
For more on hurricanes see our In-Depth Report.