25th Anniversary of Hurricane Gilbert’s record low pressure

25th Anniversary of Hurricane Gilbert's record low pressure
Lead Project Scientist Hugh Willoughby and Flight Director Jeff Masters during the flight.     photo credit: WGBH Nova

On September 13, 1988, a NOAA research flight into Hurricane Gilbert as it approached the Yucatan Peninsula measured a record low central pressure for Atlantic hurricanes of 888 mb. This broke the previous record of 892 mb for the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 and stood until Hurricanes Rita and then Wilma in 2005.

photo credit : Jeff Masters
Clouds and sea state from the P3 window photo credit : Jeff Masters

There was considerable controversy surrounding the pressure value since there were no dropsondes available on this mission with which to directly measure the surface pressure. Therefore the value was extrapolated from flight level and this method initially gave a value of 879 mb. Later recalculation using better assumptions about the temperature profile of the eye resulted in the official 888 mb value. For more information on this see :
H. E. Willoughby, J. M. Masters, C. W. Landsea, Mon. Wea. Rev., 117, 2824-2828.

CSU grads Chris Landsea and Steve Hodanish having the time of their lives.
Colorado State University graduate students Chris Landsea and Steve Hodanish having the time of their lives.

Other important research was done on the response of the upper ocean to the passage of Hurricane Gilbert:

Shay, L. K., P. G. Black, A. J. Mariano, J. D. Hawkins, and R. L. Elsberry (1992), Upper ocean response to Hurricane Gilbert, J. Geophys. Res., 97(C12), 20227–20248, doi:10.1029/92JC01586;

and on the Doppler wind analysis of an intense hurricane:

Dodge, P. P., R. W. Burpee, and F. D. Marks (1999), The kinematic structure of a hurricane with sea level pressure less than 900 mb. Mon. Wea. Rev., 127, 987-1004. doi:10.1175/1520-0493(1999)127%3C0987:TKSOAH%3E2.0.CO;2.

To see photographs and video clips from the flight as well as accounts from the participants check out the Hurricane Gilbert’s photo page.