Hurricane Michael Upgraded to Category 5 Six Months After Making Landfall. Does This Mean Anything for Victims?

Hurricane Michael, the deadly and heavily destructive storm that ripped through Florida in 2018 was upgraded to a Category 5 storm Friday—a little more than six months after making landfall.

Michael destroyed the small northwestern town of Mexico Beach, which is just south of Panama City Beach and the Florida panhandle. The storm tore through Panama City and Tallahassee before turning inland and ravaging more towns along the way. The death toll from Michael was 16 people, and the destruction was about $25 billion in damage, according to the Associated Press.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the after-the-fact upgrade to Category 5 on Friday, just over a half year since Michael landed on Oct. 10, 2018.

Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey said he thought all along that his town had endured a Category 5.

"My thought is simply that most of us thought we were dealing with (Category) 5 anyway," Cathey said.

The storm was originally classified as Category 4 because the winds didn't meet the 157 mph threshold for 5 status, but a detailed post-storm study by the National Hurricane Center deemed the winds crept to an intensity of 160 mph, making it the fourth storm to merit the Category 5 designation to hit the United States, and the first since Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992. The other Cat 5 storms were the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys—before they named storms— and Hurricane Camille, which tore up the Mississippi Coast in 1969.

The upgrade from a Category 4 to a 5 won't affect the amount of emergency money or insurance claims related to the storm, the AP report indicated. The mayor of Mexico Beach said his city has compiled 1 million cubic yards of debris from the storm.

"You still ride through our city and it's depressing," Cathey said. "We still don't have a pretty face. It's a mess. But we are working diligently at getting ourselves cleaned up and being proactive and helping people get their feet back under them."

The popular tourist destination and vacation town had approximately 1,200 residents and 2,700 housing units pre-Michael, and those numbers are down to just 400 people and 500 units just six months later.

Wind gusts from Michael were originally reported as 139 mph at both Mexico Beach and nearby Tyndall Air Force Base, according to The storm still packed hurricane force winds through Georgia, and it had winds upwards 60-75 mph as it worked its way up the Eastern seaboard states of Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey.

The storm didn't seem like it would be as powerful, because just 36 hours before making landfall it was a Category 1 storm with winds less than 100 mph. But as it moved eastward towards Mexico Beach, Panama City and Port St. Joe, it intensified.

The post-storm analysis by the NHC found that a small pocket of winds inland reached 160 mph.

In addition to wind speeds, the NHC also studied air pressure, satellite images, Doppler radar velocity and surface winds.

Hurricane season begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30.