As they sat sipping their morning coffee on Tuesday, October 18, 2005, the residents of Florida's Gulf Coast must have been more than a little dismayed to find themselves once again located within a National Hurricane Center (NHC) 5-day cone. The 5-day advisory cone and its accompanying Wind Speed Forecast issued at 5:00am on October 18, 2005 predicted that Wilma, now a tropical storm located in the southwestern Caribbean, would transition to a Category 3 hurricane and make landfall on Saturday evening.

NHC Five-day cone issued at 5:00am on Tuesday, October 18, 2005 (full image). Image from the National Hurricane Center.

NHC Five-day wind speed forecast issued at 5:00am on Tuesday, October 18, 2005 (full image). Image from the National Hurricane Center.

A mere fourteen months earlier in August 2004, this same region had borne the brunt of Charley, a powerful Category 4 hurricane that roared ashore at the mouth of Charlotte Harbor, packing sustained winds of nearly 130 knots. One in seven businesses were severely damaged and an estimated 11,000 homes in Punta Gorda and neighboring Port Charlotte were rendered uninhabitable. Charley's trip across Florida prompted federal disaster declarations in 25 of the state's 67 counties, and insured losses approached $7 billion (USD).

For many, facing another hurricane so soon after Charley was simply beyond comprehension. However, there was simply no way of avoiding the reality; the NHC was warning that the entire Florida peninsula was under the threat of Wilma and the southwest coast was currently at the center of the projected path. Wilma posed a particular danger to the Keys, a string of low-lying islands extending west from Florida's tip.

In the early hours of October 17th, Wilma became the twenty-first named storm of the 2005 season, tying the record set in 1933. This was only one of many records that would be tied or surpassed during an extraordinary season:

During its reign of destruction, Wilma would pound Cozumel, the Yucatan Peninsula, and Cuba before coming ashore on Florida's southwest coast on October 24th. The combined death toll from the storm was nearly fifty, with twenty-two perishing in Florida alone. Total property damage in the United States is estimated at $14 billion. Wilma was a remarkable hurricane and the eighth one in 2005 to affect Florida.


Hurricane Wilma's track from CIMSS.