Hurricane Ivan was the strongest hurricane in the Caribbean since Hurricane Mitch in 1998, though several subsequent monsters have now eclipsed it. Although it caused considerable damage and killed over 100 people in the United States and Caribbean, its human toll was fortunately a fraction of Mitch's toll of some 10,000.
The hurricane achieved Category 5 intensity three times, the only storm other than Hurricane Allen to do so. Again, fortunately, it seems that the only landfall it made at this intensity was on the extreme western part of Cuba--if that. The eastern part of the eyewall, with the Category 5 winds, passed over the island, but the calm eye stayed over the water.
Ivan attained the sixth-lowest barometric pressure for Atlantic hurricanes since records were kept, 910 millibars, or 26.87 inches of mercury. (For comparison, "good" weather usually means 29.9 to 31 inches.) It held this record twice in its life span.
This hurricane, in addition to being scientifically fascinating, became personal for me when it hit Gulf Shores, Alabama, as a borderline Category 3/Cat. 4. That area was one of my favorite vacation spots and I had been planning to go there in October of 2004. Also, since I was only about 4 hours from the coast, I experienced Ivan as a strong tropical storm or possibly a weak hurricane.
This is a satellite photo of Ivan at its strongest point, one that I found particularly beautiful. The original is a NOAA image in the public domain; the color enhancement is mine. Click on the thumbnail for the 419x401-pixel, 76 KB version.
I was struck with Ivan's visual similarity at this point to Hurricane Mitch at its strongest 180-mph fury. They were even in almost the same location. Compare Mitch (67 KB) to Ivan. (Public domain satellite of Mitch given similar color-enhancement treatment.)