Hurricane Kate continues to hold November record, 35 years later

Kate is still strongest, latest hurricane to strike U.S. coastline

Hurricane Kate
Hurricane Kate

FLORIDA – November 21st 1985 Hurricane Kate struck the Florida panhandle as a category 2 storm, breaking tropical records in the process.

This year marks 35 years Kate has held the title for the strongest and latest a hurricane has struck the contiguous United States.

Visible satellite of Hurricane Kate over the Gulf of Mexico November 1985
Visible satellite of Hurricane Kate over the Gulf of Mexico November 1985 (NOAA)

Packing winds of 100 miles per hour, Kate moved onshore in Mexico Beach, Florida, the eye of the storm a massive 20 miles wide.

In addition to the strong winds, an eleven foot storm surge accompanied by torrential rain brought an estimated $300 million dollars in damage. These numbers did not count the extensive damage to the oyster beds that led to the loss of many jobs in the oyster industry weeks after the storm.

Five people died and over 100-thousand panhandle residents evacuated to shelters.

It’s rare for a hurricane to form and make landfall in November in the United States. The shift into cooler seasons is when sea temperatures cool down and wind shear increases making it a less favorable for development.

That doesn’t mean all tropical formation stops, the past few weeks have been a prime example of that with Eta making landfall as a tropical storm earlier this month in Florida.

Path Hurricane Kate took November 1985
Path Hurricane Kate took November 1985 (National Hurricane Center)

The weather dynamic for Kate was a little different. The system started out as a tropical wave near the Virgin Islands on November 13th but was named 2 days later. By the 20th the hurricane had crossed Cuba, the center of Kate coming within 90 miles of Key West as it traveled around an area of high pressure that drove it more northwest.

A weak cold front moving in from the west then guided Kate to the north-northeast where it made landfall in Mexico Beach. The system then weakened as it passed through Georgia as a tropical storm. Kate then became extratropical as it entered colder water and stronger wind shear just west of Bermuda by the 23rd of November.

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