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The Florida Keys

Hurricane Wilma

Hurricane Wilma
Hurricane Wilma Category 5 hurricane (SSHS)

Hurricane Wilma at record intensity southeast of the Yucatán Peninsula on October 19, 2005

Formed October 15, 2005
Dissipated October 25, 2005
winds 185 mph (295 km/h) (1-minute sustained)

Lowest pressure 882 mbar (hPa; 26.06 inHg)
(Record low in Atlantic)
Fatalities 23 direct, 40 indirect
Damage $28.8 billion (2005 USD)
$29.76 billion (2006 USD)
affected Jamaica, Haiti, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize, Yucatán Peninsula, Florida, Bahamas, Atlantic Canada
Part of the
2005 Atlantic hurricane season
Hurricane Wilma was the most intense hurricane that has ever been recorded in the Atlantic basin. It devastated parts of the Yucatán Peninsula and southern Florida during October in the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. Wilma set numerous records for both strength and seasonal activity. Wilma was only the third Category 5 ever to develop in the month of October and with the formation of Hurricane Wilma, the 2005 season became the most active on record, exceeding the 21 storms of the 1933 season. Wilma was the twenty-second storm (including the subtropical storm discovered in reanalysis), thirteenth hurricane, sixth major hurricane, and fourth Category 5 hurricane of the record-breaking season.

Wilma made several landfalls, with the most destructive effects felt in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, Cuba, and the U.S. state of Florida. At least 63 deaths were reported, and damage is estimated at over $28.8 billion ($20.6 billion in the US; 2005 US dollars), ranking Wilma among the top 5 costliest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic and the third costliest storm in U.S. history.

Storm history

Meteorological history of Hurricane Wilma
A large area of disturbed weather developed across much of the Caribbean Sea from an upper-level low across the southwestern Atlantic Ocean. A broad area of low pressure developed on October 13 to the southeast of Jamaica, and slowly became more concentrated as upper-level wind shear gradually decreased. Dvorak classifications began on October 14, and by late on October 15 the surface circulation in the system became well-enough defined, with sufficiently organized deep convection, for the National Hurricane Center to designate the system as Tropical Depression Twenty-Four while located about 220 miles (345 km) east-southeast of Grand Cayman.

Radar image of Hurricane Wilma making landfall in South Florida The depression drifted southwestward due to the influence of two ridges to its north, and with warm water temperatures and a favorable upper-level environment it strengthened into Tropical Storm Wilma on October 17. Initially, development was slow, due to the large size of the storm and a flat pressure gradient. However, convection gradually organized, and from October 18 through the 19th Wilma underwent explosive deepening over the open waters of the Caribbean. In a 30 hour period, the pressure dropped from 982 mbar to the record-low of 882 mbar, while the winds increased to 185 mph (300 km/h). At its peak intensity, the eye of Wilma was about 3 miles (5 km) in diameter, the smallest known eye of an Atlantic hurricane.

Wilma weakened after the inner eye dissipated and underwent an eyewall replacement cycle. It turned northwestward, and remained a powerful Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale after the outer 40 mile (65 km) became the dominant eyewall. Late on October 21 Wilma made landfall on Cozumel and later on the Mexican mainland with winds of about 150 mph (240 km/h).

Wilma weakened to a moderate hurricane while over land, and reached the southern Gulf of Mexico on October 23. A powerful trough turned the hurricane to the northeast and caused to accelerate its forward motion. Its large eye remained well-organized, allowing Wilma to intensify despite increasing amounts of wind shear. It briefly reached winds of 125 mph (200 km/h) before hitting Cape Romano, Florida as a 120 mph (195 km/h) major hurricane. Wilma crossed the state in about 4.5 hours and weakened to winds of 110 mph (175 km/h) after entering the Atlantic Ocean near Jupiter. Possibly due to less friction of the eyewall or moving over warm waters of the Gulf Stream, Wilma again re-intensified to reach winds of 125 mph (200 km/h) before cold air and wind shear penetrated the inner core of convection. On October 26 it transitioned into an extratropical cyclone, and the next day the remnants of Wilma were absorbed by another extratropical storm over Atlantic Canada.


Quintana Roo government officials declared a red alert on the evening of Wednesday, October 19. Classes were suspended in the state's northern municipalities and residents of coastal areas were advised to take refuge further inland; tourists in the resort city of Cancún and its adjacent islands were told to return to their places of origin or head inland while those unable to were relocated to designated hurricane shelters throughout the city. In neighboring Yucatán, classes were also suspended in 18 coastal municipalities.

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

In Cuba, preparations were made to evacuate four western provinces, including the Isle of Youth . In all, over 368,000 people were ordered to evacuate. .

A mandatory evacuation of residents was ordered for the Florida Keys in Monroe County. However, media reports suggested that as many as 80% of residents may have ignored the evacuation order. County offices, schools and courts were closed Monday, October 24. At least 300 Keys evacuees were housed at the Monroe County shelter at Florida International University in Miami-Dade County .

Also in Florida, all Collier County public schools were declared closed for Friday, October 21. The schools were closed to "allow parents and staff to prepare for the storm and potential evacuation", and also allowed "for needed preparation of schools to be used as hurricane shelters." The schools remained closed on Monday, October 24 as the hurricane made landfall.

Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers completed an evacuation; classes were canceled until further notice. Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida also evacuated by 5 p.m. EDT on October 20. All campuses of the University of South Florida, the University of Tampa and the University of Central Florida were closed on Monday, October 24.

Mandatory evacuations were in effect for all Collier County residents living West or South of US 41. Other areas that were included in the mandatory evacuation were Seagate, Parkshore, The Moorings, Coquina Sands, Olde Naples, Aqualane Shores, Port Royal and Royal Harbour. Hurricane shelters in the area were opened. Curfews were put in place for several cities in Lee and Collier counties.

Anticipating high winds all public school districts south of Marion closed their schools on Monday, October 24 in order to prevent possible harm to county employees and students. The last places to issue this warning sat within the gap between bands as tornadoes were observed as far north as Sumter, Marion, Pasco, and Polk Counties. Schools in Palm Beach and Broward counties were closed for two weeks due to extended power outages and some physical damage to school buildings. Schools in Collier and Miami-Dade counties were closed for a little over a week, including the University of Miami.

Orange juice futures reached the highest level in six years on Wednesday, October 19, 2005, closing up 2.9 cents at $1.118 per pound. Wilma's potential for damage to orange trees in Florida could have an impact on several upcoming growing cycles. This is compounded by problems caused the previous year by Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne, which devastated Florida's orange crop, destroying many groves entirely.

As dynamic models moved the storm's track east over Florida, oil futures eased as worries of another direct hit on the oil producing regions of the Gulf of Mexico subsided.

The NFL moved up its regular-season game between Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins to 7 p.m. on Friday, October 21 in preparation of the hurricane. The NCAA postponed two college football games scheduled in south Florida on Saturday, October 22. Georgia Tech vs. University of Miami was rescheduled for Saturday, November 19 and West Virginia vs South Florida was rescheduled for Saturday, December 3. The NHL rescheduled its Saturday, October 22 regular-season game between the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers to Monday, December 5. Due to roof damage caused by Wilma and the loss of power at the BankAtlantic Center, the Panthers also had to postpone their October 29 match up against the Washington Capitals. Furthermore, a concert by the industrial rock band, Nine Inch Nails, expected to have taken place Monday, October 24th, was postponed and later cancelled. Key West's Fantasy Fest held around each Halloween was postponed until December.

Deaths from Hurricane Wilma
Country Total
Deaths State/
Province State
Total County County
Total Direct
Bahamas 1 Grand Bahama 1 1
Cuba 4 0
Haiti 12 12
Jamaica 1 1
Mexico 8 Quintana Roo 7 5
Yucatán 1 1
USA 36 Florida 36 Broward 3 1
Collier 11 0
Hillsborough 1 0
Miami-Dade 11 3
Monroe 1 0
Palm Beach 6 1
St. Johns 1 0
St. Lucie 2 0
Totals: 63 23
Because of differing resources, totals may not match.
Wilma was responsible for at least 63 total deaths and over $25 billion (2005 USD) in damages.

Mudslides were triggered from the outer bands in Haiti, killing at least 12 people.

Wilma claimed one death in Jamaica as a tropical depression on Sunday, October 16. It pounded the island for three days ending on October 18, 2005, flooding several low-lying communities and triggering mudslides that blocked roads and damaged several homes. Almost 250 people were in emergency shelters on the island.

It has been suggested that this section be split into a new article entitled Effects of Hurricane Wilma in Mexico. (Discuss)
At least eight deaths were reported in Mexico. Two were in the Playa del Carmen area due to a gas explosion caused by the strong winds. Four deaths also were reported in Cozumel and another in Cancún due to wind blowing a window out. Another death was reported in the state of Yucatán due to a falling tree.

The island of Cozumel is visible through the eye of Hurricane Wilma in this composite image. NOAA Pictures and television reports indicated extensive structural damage throughout the Cancún area, as well as significant flooding and many downed trees, power lines and scattered debris. Several homes had also collapsed. Rainfall amounts in excess of 23 inches (590 mm) were reported in several areas, with Isla Mujeres reporting 64 inches (1637 mm) — five times what Hurricane Gilbert dropped. One gymnasium used as a shelter lost its roof, which forced the evacuation of more than 1,000 people staying there.  During the storm, waves five to eight meters high (enough to reach the third floor of many hotels) slammed against the coast line.

Hurricane Damage in Grand Cayman IslandIn addition, damage was extensive as well on Cozumel, with many broken windows, fallen trees and power lines, but with less in the way of structural damage. It was comparable to the scene after Hurricane Emily back in July 2005, a storm of similar intensity but faster moving.

The Governor of Quintana Roo, Félix González Canto, said in an interview: "Never in the history of Quintana Roo have we seen a storm like this."

Communication was initially limited, as telephone and electric services were completely out in the affected areas; however, in downtown Cancún, some telephone communications remained intact, and tourists went out and risked their lives to contact home. There were also extensive reports of looting of many businesses in Quintana Roo, particularly in Cancún.

After Wilma 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. Thousands of tourists remained stranded in shelters, and the priority was sending them home immediately, according to President Vicente Fox. Buses came into Cancún from Mérida, where tourists were hoping to find flights home. The United States embassy told tourists to go to Mérida, although the next day they had to change their game plan because Mérida had become so packed with people. The road trip to Mérida was very dangerous and impassable for Taxi yet people dealt with the $200 fee for passage.

The destruction left behind by Wilma in the Yucatán severely damaged the tourist industry there, as the storm affected some of the tourist hot spots of Mexico. Damage in Mexico totaled to $7.5 billion (2005 USD, $80 billion 2005 MXN), of which $4.6 billion (2005 USD, $50 billion 2005 MXN) was from agricultural damage. It was the costliest Atlantic hurricane in Mexico, and the 2nd costliest natural disaster in Mexican history, behind only Hurricane Pauline of the 1997 Pacific hurricane season, which did $8.84 billion worth of damage.

It has been suggested that this section be split into a new article entitled Effects of Hurricane Wilma in Cuba.
In Cuba, a bus carrying evacuees crashed, killing four people, including three foreign tourists.

Coastal flooding was reported in many areas due to Wilma's storm surge and flooding from the outer bands, particularly around Havana. Over 250 homes were heavily flooded and rescuers required scuba gear, inflatable rafts and amphibious vehicles to reach the most severely flooded areas.  The city of Havana was also without power and wind damage was reported as a result of winds up to 85 mph (140 km/h). ]Officials in Cuba estimated total damage to be about $700 million dollars.

It has been suggested that this section be split into a new article entitled Effects of Hurricane Wilma in Florida. (Discuss)
At least 35 Hurricane Wilma-related deaths were reported in the United States, all in Florida. CNN reports that a Coral Springs man who was inspecting damage during the eye of the hurricane was killed by a falling tree, according to a Broward County official. [21] Three more direct deaths were reported in Florida, one in rural Collier County and two in Palm Beach County, all due to wind-blown debris. In addition, a drowning was reported on Maule Lake in northern Miami-Dade County from a capsized boat. Wilma was also blamed for at least 26 indirect deaths.

Storm surge from Wilma on Key Haven, island suburb of Key West, Florida.
Even concrete power poles were snapped by the hurricane's winds.
Nearly every window on the west side of South Beach Community Hospital in Miami Beach was blown out. Damage from Wilma was extensive and widespread over South Florida due to winds and flooding. Business owners were forced to close their businesses. After the hurricane had passed, a storm surge from the backwash of up to 8 ft from the Gulf of Mexico completely inundated a large portion of the lower Keys. Low-lying areas of Key West and the lower Keys, including major tourist destinations were under up to 3 ft of water from the storm surge. 60% of the homes in Key West were flooded. Much of the originally settled "oldtown", such as the Solares Hill and cemetery areas did not flood due to their higher elevations of 12-16 ft. The surge destroyed tens of thousands cars throughout the lower Keys and many houses were flooded with 1-2 feet of seawater. A local newspaper referred to Key West and the lower Keys as a "car graveyard".[28] The peak of the storm surge occurred when the eye of Wilma had already passed over the Naples area, and the sustained winds during the surge were less than 40 mph.

Several trees were uprooted and low-land areas flooded in Palm City, Florida as Hurricane Wilma was leaving the state. In the city of Fort Lauderdale, in Broward County, several highrise buildings suffered extensive damage, including the 14-floor Broward County School Board building and the Broward County Courthouse, which was forced to remain closed for two weeks as a result of the storm. Broward County Public Schools also remained closed for two weeks, and some Miami high-rises suffered severe damage during the storm. Even while the center of Wilma was still a long way away from Florida, its effects were felt from its expansive outer bands.

The Naples Metropolitan Area received the brunt of Hurricane Wilma. Hundreds in the county, if not thousands, were left homeless by the category three hurricane. The point of landfall, between Marco Island and Everglades City, is sparsely uninhabited but the communities around landfall suffered extreme damage.

The Naples Airport was severely damaged by the hurricane, while areas like Immokalee and East Naples suffered extreme and widespread roof damage to numerous homes and communities. Out of the 170 signaled intersections in Collier County, 130 were destroyed. There was damage to the 90 high-rise condominiums in Coastal Naples, where some levels were blown out completely by the high winds brought by the storm (much like the damage in downtown Miami and Fort Lauderdale). Ninety percent of all mobile homes in East Naples were destroyed, while 30% of the mobile homes in all of Collier County suffered the same fate. Widespread roof damage was evident across the county even outside the City of Naples. At least three deaths were blamed on Hurricane Wilma in Collier County, and widespread wind and water damage is commonplace. Most schools in Palm Beach County had extensive roof and building damage. Also, power had yet to be restored at most schools, leaving them closed for two weeks. In Boca Raton, a city in southeastern Palm Beach County, the local Boca Raton Airport suffered extensive damage, including the collapse of two hangars, planes that had flipped over, and hangar doors which had blown in. The airport reported $12 million in damages, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Hurricane Wilma caused widespread destruction of critical infrastructure, including power, water and sewer systems. Florida Power and Light, the largest electricity utility in the state, reported more than 3,241,000 customers had lost power, equivalent to approximately 6,000,000 people. More than 20 days later, some residents and business owners remained without electric service. Cable television and internet services as well as cell phone services were unavailable for up to 2 months in some areas. This prompted many residents to switch service providers.

Damage was widespread throughout South Florida. Broward and Palm Beach counties were hit particularly hard by the many tornadoes in the western portion of the hurricane. In addition, a tornado may have touched down in Miami-Dade County, causing damage to the South Beach Community Hospital.

Power outages in southeastern Florida, notably in Miami-Dade County, Broward County, and Palm Beach County, compounded the difficulties South Floridians faced following Wilma. Any traffic lights still standing were not working, causing an increase in traffic problems. Gasoline was in high demand for cars and generators; six hour waits were common, due to lack of power to pump the fuel. Much of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties were placed under a boil water order. Communication was also difficult -- land lines were damaged, while cellular towers were either damaged, without power, or overloaded in capacity. Many people later admitted they underestimated Wilma's power (Category 3) as she approached South Florida (Wilma was expected to weaken to a Category 1 as she reached the east coast), and failed to take the precautions that they would have taken with a stronger storm. Damage in Florida totaled $20.6 billion (2005 USD).

Effects of Hurricane Wilma in the Bahamas
While passing the Bahamas, the hurricane produced hurricane force winds and a powerful storm surge, flooding southwestern coastal areas of Grand Bahama and destroying hundreds of buildings. Damage totaled about $100 million (2005 USD, $105 million 2007 USD), almost entirely on the western half of the island. The central portion of Grand Bahama, including in and around Freeport, reported minor to moderate damage, while the eastern end received little to no damage. One child died on the island from the flooding. Elsewhere in the Bahamas, moderate damage occurred on Bimini and Abaco, while islands further to the south reported minimal wind damage.


Florida's sugar industry was hard hit, the cropping season had already started and had to be halted indefinitely. Damage to sugarcane crops was critical and widespread. Citrus canker spread rapidly throughout southern Florida following Hurricane Wilma, creating further hardships on an already stressed citrus economy due to damage from Wilma and previous years' hurricanes. Citrus production estimates fell to a low of 158 million boxes for the 2005-2006 production season from a high of 240 million for 2003-2004.

In March 2006, the National Weather Service opened their new hurricane and weather forecasting center at 1315 White Street in Key West. The center is designed to withstand a Category Five hurricane and surge. It had been under construction during the 2005 hurricane season. In January 2006 artists were invited to exhibit sculptures inspired by the storm in an outdoor exhibit at Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West.

The popular Mexican resort towns of Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, and Cancún all suffered significant damage from Wilma, causing major loss of tourism income. The MTV Video Music Awards Latin America 2005 were to be held Wednesday, October 19, 2005 at the Playa del Carmen Resort (close to world-famous Cancún) in Quintana Roo, Mexico. The 2005 edition of these awards was postponed, however, due to the approach of Hurricane Wilma toward the Mexican Riviera Maya. MTV had moved the date from October 20 to October 19 in an attempt to avoid Hurricane Wilma, but eventually decided to cancel the show.

The United States offered emergency aid to Cuba, and to the surprise of the State Department, the Cuban government accepted. Many times in the past, including during Hurricane Dennis, the U.S. offered aid, but the Cuban government declined. The State Department sent three damage assessors to Havana to determine their needs.

Due to significant damage in Mexico and Florida, the name Wilma was officially retired in April of 2006 by the World Meteorological Organization. It was replaced by Whitney on List III of the Atlantic hurricane naming lists which is used next in the 2011 season. Wilma was the first retired "W" name since the World Meteorological Organization started retiring names in 1954.

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