After 10 years, Hurricane Andrew gained 20 mph in strength and one rung in status, as it was promoted to a Category 5 storm on Wednesday.
In announcing the upgrade, the result of months of analysis, officials at the National Hurricane Center concede the only real ramification is satisfying scientific knowledge.
Max Mayfield, director of the center in Miami-Dade County. "It makes Andrew a very, very rare event."
Records now will show Andrew packed maximum sustained winds of 165 mph with peak gusts of more than 200 mph, putting it well over the 156-mph threshold for Category 5 under the Saffir-Simpson Scale.
By definition, a Category 5 hurricane, the most destructive of all storms, has the power to rip off roofs, blow down homes and buildings, destroy mobile homes and completely shred the landscape of shrubs, trees and signs.
Andrew becomes one of only three such storms to hit the U.S. coastline. The other two include Camille, which hit Mississippi and Louisiana in 1969 and killed 256 people, and the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, which killed 408 people in the Florida Keys.
Until Wednesday, Andrew, which ravaged south Miami-Dade County on Aug. 24, 1992, was officially a Category 4 with maximum sustained winds of 145 mph.
But experts throw in a caution: Just because South Florida has experienced a Category 5, don't pooh-pooh less intense storms. Any hurricane can cause great devastation.
They note most of Andrew's damages, $40 billion in 2002 dollars, were the result of sustained winds between 110 and 150 mph, or between Category 3 and Category 4 strength.
Andrew's most ferocious winds were confined to a small area, where the eye rolled ashore on Elliott Key and near what was then Homestead Air Force Base.
Further, those winds might have been short-lived once the storm made landfall, said hurricane specialist James Franklin.
To meet the criteria for a Category 5, a hurricane need have winds of at least 156 mph for only one minute, he said. He couldn't say how long the winds attained that speed or how far inland the most powerful winds reached.
"We feel the Category 5 winds at least made it to the coastline," he said.
The National Hurricane Center and its research arm decided to review Andrew, the costliest storm to make U.S. landfall, after receiving federal grants to study the intensity and tracks of all hurricanes since 1910.
Scientists can now better determine the profiles of intense hurricanes, thanks to small radar devices called GPS dropwindsondes.
The devices, which feed data such as temperature, pressure and wind speed, have been dropped into the most powerful storms in the past five years.
They showed that a hurricane's winds at ground level are about 90 percent of the wind speeds at 10,000 feet, where hurricane hunters penetrate a storm's eye wall.
In Andrew, an aircraft recorded winds of 186 mph in the hour prior to landfall, which would have made the winds at ground level about 165 mph.
Officials emphasized they were not working with new data, but rather taking another look at old data under a "best-estimate" approach.
"We'll always have some uncertainty," Mayfield said, "but we made our best call."
Because of the dropwindsondes, other Category 4 hurricanes may also be upgraded, officials said. Those might include Hugo, which hit South Carolina in 1989; Carla, which hit Texas in 1961; and Donna, which struck Florida and other sections of the East Coast in 1960.
On Wednesday, hurricane officials expressed relief in making their decision just shy of the 10-year anniversary of Andrew's hit on Saturday.
"Even my wife asked me why it has taken 10 years," Mayfield said. "I said because we've learned some new things."
Ken Kaye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-385-7911.