Category 5 is as powerful as a hurricane can get under the Saffir-Simpson scale. These monster storms pack wind speeds of 157 miles per hour or more. Since 1924, there have been 35 documented hurricanes in the North Atlantic that reached this level—and of those, five have hit the United States at Category 5 strength.
While category 5 storms clearly present a severe threat, wind speed isn’t the only factor that makes a hurricane destructive. Storm surges often cause the most damage. So a hurricane’s 1 to 5 rating on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale doesn’t neatly line up with how dangerous it is.
Hurricane Katrina—considered among the worst storms in U.S. history—did reach Category 5 status in August 2005, but it downgraded to Category 3 by the time it made landfall in Louisiana and Mississippi. The deadliest recorded hurricane to hit the U.S. was a Category 4 when it hit Galveston, Texas in September 1900 and killed anywhere from 6,000 to 12,000 people.
Although the Saffir-Simpson categories aren’t perfect indicators of storm severity, the U.S. National Hurricane Center adopted them in the early 1970s to try to offer the public an idea of how they should respond to an incoming storm. Here’s a list of what happened each time the U.S. was hit by a hurricane at Category 5.
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1928: The San Felipe II Hurricane Hits Puerto Rico
On September 13, 1928, a hurricane slammed into the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, bringing heavy rainfall and high-speed winds that lasted for 18 hours. The impact killed 300 people, destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes and ruined farmers’ coffee crops. Because the storm was the second recorded hurricane to hit Puerto Rico on St. Philip’s feast day, it became known as the San Felipe II Hurricane (in Florida, where the storm later made landfall as a Category 4, it is known as the Okeechobee Hurricane).
At the time, meteorologists hadn’t yet developed a standard classification system for hurricanes. But San Felipe II’s wind speeds of 160 miles per hour make it a Category 5 storm. The San Felipe II was the most destructive recorded hurricane in Puerto Rican history until Hurricane Maria made landfall in 2017, killing nearly 3,000 people.
1935: The Labor Day Hurricane Hits the Florida Keys
The first recorded hurricane 5 to hit the continental U.S. landed on Labor Day in 1935. It blew through the upper Florida Keys with winds speeds up to 200 miles per hour and killed over 400 people. At least 250 of the people killed were World War I veterans who’d come to the Keys through a Federal Emergency Relief Administration project for unemployed veterans during the Great Depression.
At the time, the veterans were building bridges and roads to help revitalize the Florida Keys as a tourist destination. On the evening of September 2, Labor Day, U.S. officials sent a rescue train down to them, but it was too late. The storm swept the train off its tracks, killing many of the veterans who’d already boarded in the process.
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1969: Hurricane Camille Hits Louisiana and Mississippi
In 1953, the United States began naming hurricanes exclusively after women. One of these was Hurricane Camille, a storm that landed along the Mississippi Gulf Coast late in the evening of August 17, 1969. We don’t actually know the storm’s maximum sustained winds, since it “destroyed all the wind-recording instruments in the landfall area,” according to the National Weather Service. However, the service estimates wind speeds reached 175 miles per hour along the coast.
The Category 5 hurricane killed 143 people on the Gulf Coast. But even after its wind speeds dropped below hurricane-level intensity, it continued to be deadly as it moved north across the country. In Virginia and West Virginia, flash flooding from the storm killed 113 people.
1992: Hurricane Andrew Hits Florida
After the U.S. started giving hurricanes women’s names in 1953, male meterologists and weathermen began describing dangerous hurricanes as “teasing” or “flirting” with a coastline. Feminists like Roxcy Bolton campaigned to stop associating women with natural disasters, and in 1979 the U.S. started naming hurricanes after men too, with Hurricane Bob. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew became the first of these male-named hurricanes to reach Category 5 in the U.S.
Once again, the Category 5’s target was Florida. It made landfall in southern Florida on August 24, 1992, and reached sustained wind speeds of 165 miles per hour. The storm killed 61 people, and its destruction or damage to buildings displaced another 250,000.
2018: Hurricane Michael Hits Florida
Hurricane Michael had maximum sustained wind speeds of 160 miles per hour when it made landfall in Florida Panhandle in October 2018. It killed 16 people and was one of eight hurricanes in the North Atlantic that year—including Hurricane Florence, which killed 54 people.
Scientists warn that climate change increases the severity of storms, meaning that storms in the North Atlantic will become more likely to turn into hurricanes as the climate crisis continues.
READ MORE: The Deadliest Disasters in U.S. History