September 23, 2017
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As Irma Intensifies, "You've Never Experienced a Hurricane Like This"

With a "monster eye" and sustained winds that could reach 200pmh, Hurricane Irma causes dread ahead of expected landfall

By Jon Queally


As the northern Caribbean islands brace for impact and evacuations are ordered in south Florida, Hurricane Irma became one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded on Tuesday afternoon with sustained winds of over 185mph and an intensity that was "redefining the rules" of what a storm in this part of the world could be.

"Wow," tweeted meteorologist Eric Holthaus, "Hurricane  is now expected to *exceed* the theoretical maximum intensity for a storm in its environment. Redefining the rules."

The National Hurricance Center, in an afternoon advisory, warned that Irma was a "potentially catastrophic category 5 hurricane" that would bring "life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall hazards" to the Leeward Islands beginning on Tuesday night, with Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Cuba, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, the Dominic Republic, and Haiti also in danger in the days ahead.  The Florida Keys and southern coastal areas of the mainland, including Miami, could face a direct hit this weekend.

With NOAA providing images of the "monster eye" of the storm taken from space, Eric Blake, a scientist at the National Hurricane Center, remarked that it was "one of the most incredible things I have ever seen on satellite":


The National Weather Service urged everyone within Irma's potential path to prepare for an emergency as it provided updates on the "extremely dangerous" Category 5 storm:


According to a mid-afternoon update from the Weather Underground's Jeff Master:

Hurricane Irma intensified into an extremely dangerous high-end Category 5 storm with top sustained winds of 180 mph on Tuesday morning, putting it among the strongest Atlantic hurricanes ever observed. Irma's winds are the most powerful ever measured in an Atlantic hurricane north of the Caribbean and east of the Gulf of Mexico. Measurements from Hurricane Hunter aircraft found peak winds of close to 180 mph, well above the 157-mph threshold for Category 5 strength. At 11:07 am EDT, a dropsonde in Irma's eye measured a central pressure of 927 millibars, 4 mb lower than the previous pass, so Irma is still strengthening.

Irma is poised to deliver a punishing blow to the northern Lesser Antilles Islands on Tuesday night and Wednesday. As of 11 am EDT Tuesday, Hurricane Warnings were in effect for the northern Leeward Islands, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Tropical storm-force winds are expected to spread into the Lesser Antilles on Tuesday night, reaching the Virgin Islands on Wednesday morning, Puerto Rico on Wednesday afternoon, and the Dominican Republic on Thursday morning (Figure 2). As of 8 am EDT, most of southern Florida, Cuba, and The Bahamas were in the 5-day cone of uncertainty for Irma.

Subsequent to Master's analysis, the storm did continue to intensify with its pressure continuing to drop and predictions that sustained winds could reach a jaw-dropping 200mph.


With the city of Houston and other communities along the Gulf coast of Texas and Louisiana just beginning to recover from the damage left by Hurricane Harvey last week, another major storm about to make landfall only serves to highlight the warnings from climate scientists and weather experts that powerful storms, fueled by warmer ocean temperatures, would become more frequent and more dangerous due to the effects of global warming.


This work, originally appeared at Commondreams.org, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Photo: NOAA/@NHC_Atlantic

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