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- Hurricane Ida was among the strongest hurricanes to make landfall in U.S. history, but it wasn’t the strongest by several measures.
Hurricane Ida killed dozens of people and caused flooding and damage in Louisiana and beyond as heavy rains inundated the Northeast, but some people on social media don’t think it’s getting the infamous credit it deserves.
"Ida was THE strongest hurricane to ever strike anywhere in the United States," reads a screenshot of a post that’s being shared widely online.
It was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
We reached out to the National Hurricane Center about the claim. Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesperson for the center, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told us it’s not true.
"Hurricane Ida, at 150 mph, is tied with several other hurricanes (including 2020’s Laura) as the 5th strongest hurricane in terms of wind speed at the time of landfall onto the U.S. coastline," Feltgen said in an email.
The top four? The Labor Day Hurricane, which made landfall in Florida in 1935, before hurricanes were given people’s names; Hurricane Camille, which made landfall in Mississippi in 1969; Hurricane Andrew, which made landfall in Florida in 1992; and Hurricane Michael, which made landfall in Florida in 2018, he said.
News coverage reflects this.
On Sept. 1, USA Today reported a story with this headline: "Ida was one of the strongest hurricanes to hit US mainland. Here are some stronger ones."
"There are many rankings determining a hurricane’s strength, ranging from its death toll, sustained wind speed or atmospheric pressure and winds at landfall," the newspaper said. "When it comes to winds at landfall, Ida’s 150-mph winds tied it with other previous hurricanes as the fifth strongest hurricane to ever hit the United States’ mainland."
The Washington Post reported that Ida and two other hurricanes — Last Island Hurricane in 1856 and Hurricane Laura — had the strongest winds to ever hit Louisiana, but it, too, noted that it was tied as the fifth-strongest storm to make landfall anywhere in the country based on wind speed.
The Associated Press also reported that Ida tied with another hurricane, 2007’s Humberto, for the most rapid intensification in the day before landfall; Ida was listed at 85 mph 26 hours before landfall.
Meteorologists also rank hurricanes by central pressure, according to the AP — the lower the barometric pressure, the stronger the storm. By that measure, Ida tied for the ninth strongest storm on landfall.
"While not quite record-setting," the AP said, "Ida is among some of the strongest and fastest intensifying storms in more than 150 years of hurricane records."
It’s just not the strongest to strike anywhere in the United States, as recent social media posts have claimed.
The posts also made the case that members of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, better known as the Hurricane Hunters of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, couldn’t collect accurate storm data to send to the National Hurricane Center, which then determines a storm’s strength and category.
"Right before Ida made landfall, the Hurricane Hunters plane tried to get readings," the posts said. "They got the north quadrant. Then they got the west-southwest quadrant. Then they flew across the eye… And got the proverbial northeast quadrant…. And then… The hurricane hunters went to the south quadrant… But they had to abandon their mission because the windows on their plane began cracking!!! So no… Uncle Sam’s weather agencies do NOT know how strong Ida was at landfall."
We asked Uncle Sam’s weather agencies about this, too. The National Hurricane Center directed us to the 53rd Air Weather Squadron, and Staff Sgt. Kristen Pittman confirmed that a window did crack during an Aug. 28 flight, forcing the pilots to return to base early.
But there were no maintenance issues during an Aug. 29 mission "right as the storm was making landfall," Pittman said. "The crew was able to make two passes through the eye before it moved onto land. Once the center of the system is over land, the crews don’t fly through it both for flight safety reasons and because at that point there are generally instruments on the ground that can measure the conditions of the eye."
Pittman also noted that it can take months to finalize a storm’s life cycle.
"Case in point," she said, "Zeta last year was thought to have made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane. It wasn’t until months later, after looking over all the data, they revealed in the final report for Zeta that it actually reached major hurricane status hitting Louisiana as a Category 3."
But the argument that the current conclusions about Hurricane Ida are wrong because of a windshield crack doesn’t bear out. And there’s no evidence now to claim that Ida is the strongest storm to ever hit the United States.
We rate these posts False.
Facebook post, Sept. 14, 2021
Facebook post, Sept. 14, 2021
Facebook post, Sept. 14, 2021
USA Today, Ida was one of the strongest hurricanes to hit US mainland. Here are some stronger ones, Sept. 1, 2021
The Associated Press, Ida: Exclamation point on record onslaught of US landfalls, Aug. 29, 2021
The Washington Post, Ida’s impact from the Gulf Coast to Northeast — by the numbers, Sept. 3, 2021
The Washington Post, Ida’s remnants inundate the northeast, killing more than 40, Sept. 2, 2021
National Hurricane Center, NHC Aircraft Reconnaissance, visited Sept. 16, 2021
Gray, USAF Navigators: "We’re flying in a hostile environment," Sept. 6, 2021
Email interview with Dennis Feltgen, communications and public affairs officer, National Hurricane Center, Sept. 15, 2021
Email interview with Kristen Pittman, SSgt, U.S. Air Force, Sept. 16, 2021
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