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Subject: E1) Which is the most intense tropical cyclone on record?

Contributed by Chris Landsea

There are several ways of measuring a tropical cyclone's intensity, either central pressure or its highest measured wind speed. Typhoon Tip in the Northwest Pacific Ocean on 12 October 1979 was measured to have a central pressure of 870 mb and estimated surface sustained winds of 85 m/s (165 kt, 190 mph) (Dunnavan and Diercks 1980). Typhoon Nancy on 12 September, 1961 is listed in the best track data for the Northwest Pacific region as having an estimated maximum sustained winds of 95 m/s (185 kt, 213 mph) with a central pressure of 888 mb. However, it is now recognized (Black 1992) that the maximum sustained winds estimated for typhoons during the 1940s to 1960s were too strong and that the 95 m/s (and numerous 83 to 93 m/s reports) is somewhat too high. In 2010, the WMO announced a new winner with Tropical Cyclone Olivia which struck Australia in 1996. The winds were measured at 113 m/s (220 kt, 253 mph)! This exceed the previous record holder for surface wind speeds held by the Mt. Washington Observatory since 1934.

Note that Hurricane Wilma's 882 mb lowest pressure (estimated from a dropsonde) in 2005 is the most intense [as measured by lowest sea level pressure] for the Atlantic basin, it is almost 12 mb weaker (higher) than the above Typhoon Tip of the Northwest Pacific Ocean.

While the central pressures for the Northwest Pacific typhoons are the lowest globally, the North Atlantic hurricanes have provided sustained wind speeds possibly comparable to the Northwest Pacific. From the best track database, Hurricane Camille (1969) and Hurricane Allen (1980) have winds that are estimated to be 85 m/s (165 kt, 190 mph). Measurements of such winds are inherently going to be suspect as instruments often are completely destroyed or damaged at these speeds.

Last Updated April 21, 2010

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