Tag Archives: Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Maria also becomes Category 5 storm, threatens more destruction

With winds of 160 mph (260 km/h), Hurricane Maria tears through the Caribbean area, likely moving on to wreak even more havoc.

This graphic shows an approximate representation of coastal areas under a hurricane warning (red), hurricane watch (pink), tropical storm warning (blue) and tropical storm watch (yellow). The orange circle indicates the current position of the center of the tropical cyclone. The black line, when selected, and dots show the National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecast track of the center at the times indicated. Image credits and more information: NOAA.

This year’s hurricane season has been unusually powerful, especially in the Atlantic. After Harvey, Irma, and Jose, Maria has now grown to the highest classification possible, a Category 5 hurricane.

Maria formed on September 16 out of a tropical wave that was monitored by the National Hurricane Center starting on September 14. At 23:30 UTC on September 18, Maria strengthened to a Category 5 hurricane, making 2017 one of only six years to feature two or more Category 5 hurricanes in the Atlantic in all recorded history.

The Caribbean island of Dominica, home to over 77,000 people, is first on the list for Maria. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit posted on Facebook that the storm has already off his roof and he was “at the complete mercy of the hurricane”.

“My greatest fear is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury, possible deaths … Come tomorrow morning we will hit the road in search of the injured and those trapped in the rubble.”

“Winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with.”

“My focus now is rescuing the trapped and securing medical assistance. We will need help of all kinds … Dominica needs support from friends for helicopter services to get around the country [and] determine what’s needed.”

Maria seems to have the same trajectory as Irma. Image credits: NASA.

Unfortunately, Maria seems to be having a very similar trajectory to that of Irma last week. If this keeps up, it means that many of the areas just now recovering for Irma will have to brace for another impact.

Hurricane warnings remain in effect for:

  • Dominica
  • Guadeloupe
  • Montserrat
  • St Kitts & Nevis
  • US Virgin Islands
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Puerto Rico, Culebra and Vieques


UPDATE: Hurricane Maria has now dipped slightly to a Category 4 storm. The winds have decreased just a bit, from 160mph (260kmh) as it crossed Dominica to 155mph (250kmh). However, it remains an extremely dangerous storm as it heads through the Caribbean and towards Puerto Rico.

ISS astronaut photographs hurricanes from space — and it’s mind-bending

Randy “Komrade” Bresnik, NASA’s ISS commander, has a pretty rad hobby: he takes photos of hurricanes, from outer space. It looks like this:

Hurricane Jose. Credits: Randy Bresnik / NASA.

From the space station 260 miles (419 km) above Earth, Bresnik thoughtfully looks down every day, hoping that the hurricane season will cause no more pain and destruction. He shares photos not only of the hurricanes themselves, but also of the areas unfortunate enough to be in their wake. The island of Barbuda, for instance, was 90% destroyed. The Turks and Caicos Islands, a British Overseas Territory, were also directly hit.

A Texan himself, Bresnik started with photos of Harvey, lamenting the destruction the storm has brought in his hometown of Houston. Like much of America, Bresnik let go a sigh of release as Harvey finally left Texas, but warned against taking it lightly.

Unfortunately, this hurricane season proved especially damaging and just as Harvey made its exit, Irma stepped in. To Bresnik, Irma seems more like a monster than a storm.

Irma became the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic, with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, and gusts going even faster. Irma was so strong it got picked up by seismographs, sensors built to detect earthquakes.

Irma claimed at least 12 lives, though the official toll might be much higher in reality. Florida Gov. Rick Scott said the storm left “devastation” on the Keys, but at this point, it’s unclear just how much damage Irma caused.

Then, meteorologists started issuing warnings for Jose.

Thankfully, Hurricane Jose seems to have dissipated much of its energy and steered clear of densely populated areas. Jose is now a Category 1 hurricane, unlike Irma which was a Category 5, the highest category on the scale.

But while a US impact is unlikely, it’s still possible — and other areas may yet be struck by the hurricane.

“Canada appears more likely than the U.S. to receive a hit from Jose at this point, but it is too early to be a believer in these long-range model forecasts,” said Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters.

But even so, even being “just” a Category 1 hurricane, Jose looks impressive as all hell. He may be Irma’s little brother, but he’s still a force to be reckoned with.


Bresnik‘s Tweets paint an impressive picture, and his account has pretty much become a must-follow on Twitter, just like his ISS predecessors. The station’s other residents — Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy and European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli — also posted their photos of Irma from orbit last week.

Please don’t shoot Hurricane Irma, officials warn

These are sad times indeed when officials have to issue warnings telling people not to shoot at hurricanes.

It’s amazing what a viral Facebook post can do, no matter how crazy (or sarcastic) it is. “LETS SHOW IRMA THAT WE SHOOT FIRST,” the post from a 22-year-old man said. His post went so popular that over 27,000 people said they would attend the “Shoot Hurricane Irma” event, prompting authorities to issue a warning against “shooting your gun at Irma”. The official tweet went on:

Thankfully, there were no incidents associated with the event.

“There we no actual shots fired. We don’t know if the individual was joking, or making a serious threat,” said Pasco County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Doug Tobin. “We’re just responding to citizens in general, making sure no one shoots weapons in the air. The bullet trajectory could come down and hurt individuals.”

Of course, at first it wasn’t clear whether or not the individual was joking, but the event took a life of its own, and the sarcasm became evident. To underline this, in a later update, the author said that “about 50% of the world could not understand sarcasm to save their lives.” This seems to fall well within Poe’s Law, an internet adage which states that “without a clear indicator of the author’s intent, it is impossible to create a parody of extreme views so obviously exaggerated that it cannot be mistaken by some readers or viewers as a sincere expression.” Often times, parodies seem like genuine extreme views.

But even stories started as jokes can be very dangerous.

Even though the majority of people may be in on the joke, a few might be not. I wouldn’t put it beyond people to get their guns and shoot at the hurricane; after all, this is a country that elected Trump as president largely due to false news which propagated virally across social media.

Needless to say, shooting your weapon at a hurricane won’t actually do anything. It will put you, and potentially others, at significant risk. The fact that authorities even have to step in and issue this warning is disheartening. For proper information on hurricane preparedness, check out the portals from Ready.gov and NOAA.

The simple reason why climate change is affecting hurricanes

Much ink has been spilled over the relationship between these strong hurricanes and climate change, but a fairly straightforward equation indicates a direct connection between the two.

A GOES satellite image showing Hurricane Irma in the Atlantic Ocean. The storm is a category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 175 mph (281 km/h) and even higher gusts. Credits: US Navy.

In the early to mid nineteenth century, a number of brilliant physicists worked to lay the foundations of thermodynamics. Pursuing the very practical goal of developing better steam engines, they often ended up describing the very laws of nature. This is exactly the case with the Clausius–Clapeyron relation, named after Rudolf Clausius and Benoît Paul Émile Clapeyron. The relation describes phase transition between two phases of matter of a single constituent. It’s a pressure-temperature equation, which translated to hurricanes, states this: for every degree Celsius of heating, the air can hold 7% more water. In other words, the same hurricane in a world that’s 1C warmer would lead to 7% more rainfall.

“A warmer ocean makes a warmer atmosphere, a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture,” says Gabriel Vecchi, a professor of geosciences at Princeton University who studies extreme weather events. “So, all other things equal, the same storm in a warmer planet would give you more rainfall.”

Of course, this is only a simple and straightforward connection. The relationship between climate change and hurricanes is much more complex and intertwined than this. Due to the sheer complexity of the phenomenon, it’s hard to establish a direct cause-effect relationship, but some things seem very likely. At the very least, a warmer climate brings much rainfall.

“You fit all the data together and ask what is the likelihood for 100 millimeters, 200 millimeters of precipitation,” said study co-author Sarah Kapnick, a researcher at the NOAA, before the Harvey hit Texas. “As you get to higher and higher values of precipitation it becomes less and less likely without climate change.”

But, as NOAA explains in a detailed statement, climate change is doing much more than bringing more rainfall. Anthropogenic warming, they say, will cause tropical cyclones globally to be more intense on average. Climate scientists are more and more certain of a correlation between the unprecedented temperature rise and the unprecedented hurricanes.

Climate change can’t be blamed for the existence of these juggernauts — hurricanes have existed long before humans and will continue on existing regardless of what we do — but the proportions and effects can be exacerbated. After all, researchers have long predicted that climate change will lead to more extreme weather events and this is pretty much what we’re seeing now.

Hurricane Irma: 90% of the buildings on the Caribbean Island of Barbuda “destroyed by storm”

At least one person was killed, though the real number might be much higher.

Image credits: NOAA.

As Hurricane Irma became one of the strongest hurricanes in recorded history, the Caribbean braced — but there was not much it could do. Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said that the winds of 185 mph are unprecedented and that they left the island barely habitable.

“The entire housing stock was damaged. It is just a total devastation,” Mr Browne told local news station ABS. “This rebuilding initiative will take years,” he added.

“I have never seen any such destruction on a per-capita before as I saw when I was in Barbuda this afternoon. The telecommunications system is totally destroyed, we have seen cell towers snapped in two.”

“Barbuda now is literally rubble,” he summed it up.

Thankfully, at least some of the island’s buildings have survived, but things are not looking good. Around 60% of Barbuda’s 1,600 residents have been left homeless, and it’s unclear how they will manage to find shelter, as another hurricane might threaten the island. Hurricane Jose is fast approaching, and apparently also picking up steam.

Other parts of the Caribbean are also reeling. Approximately 95% of the buildings on the French part of the island St Martin have been destroyed. As Irma seems to be headed for Florida, a state of alarm has been declared for the state. Florida’s governor Rick Scott has urged coastal residents to heed evacuation orders. There are approximately 80,000 inhabitants in the southern parts of the Florida Keys area, which is also a touristic hotspot.

It remains to be seen what the hurricane’s direction will be. Satellite monitoring and computer models help us predict this movement and prepare for it — something which President Trump has already slashed funding for. Meanwhile, Trump rushed to Twitter (where else?) to reassure people that “great teams of talented and brave people” are “already in place and ready to help”.

Hurricane Irma already being picked up by seismographs — instruments that detect earthquakes

Hurricane Irma has picked up so much speed that we’re seeing it on seismometers — sensors designed to detect measure earthquakes.

Seismometers in the Caribbean are picking up noise from Irma. Image credits: Stephen Hicks via Google Earth.

Hurricane Irma is already reaching biblical proportions. With sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, it’s already the strongest recorded hurricane in the Atlantic, and has plenty of room to grow even more as it nears the warmer waters of Florida Keys.

Stephen Hicks, a seismologist at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton, said the earthquake is already “visible” on the seismometers from Guadeloupe, an insular region of the Leeward Islands, part of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean

“What we’re seeing in the seismogram are low-pitched hums that gradually become stronger as the hurricane gets closer to the seismometer on the island of Guadeloupe,” said Stephen Hicks.

The seismic noise is so strong it can be hard to see small earthquakes. Image credits: Stephen HIcks.

This doesn’t mean that the hurricane itself is causing earthquakes — no such thing. But the winds and their effect on trees are being registered as noise on seismograms, it’s that strong. As the trees sway to the ground, they transmit energy, which can be regarded as teeny tiny earthquakes (seismic noise). Of course, you need to pass a lot of energy to the ground in order to get picked up by seismic sensors, which are generally designed to analyze significant temblors.

The stronger waves crashing onto the coast might also be accentuating the effect.

“Earthquakes occur tens of (miles) deep inside Earth’s crust, a long way from the influence of weather events, and there is no evidence to suggest that hurricanes and storms directly cause earthquakes,” Hicks added just to be sure.

It’s not uncommon for very strong hurricanes to be recorded on seismometers. Hurricane Harvey also registered on seismographs near Houston. When dealing with such a powerful storm, it can even be difficult to see smaller earthquakes due to all the noise.

It’s uncommon for two hurricanes to strike the US one after the other. Harvey killed over 60 people (the number is expected to rise significantly as the dust settles) and caused material damage of over $80 billion. Irma might be even worse.

The “extremely dangerous” Category 5 will strike the northeastern Leeward Islands and potentially head up to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and the southeastern Bahamas, before ultimately moving on to Florida. There is still uncertainty about the hurricane’s trajectory, but people have been warned to prepare for the worst. With

“The hurricane force winds in Irma are wider than Florida,” tweeted Bryan Norcross, hurricane specialist at the Weather Channel. “You won’t need a direct hit to get Wilma-type winds & storm surge on both coasts.”

To keep an eye on Irma, you can follow:

Hurricane Irma is the strongest ever recorded in the Atlantic. It’s set to make landfall in the US

The Caribbean and Florida should prepare for the worst, meteorologists say.

This graphic shows an approximate representation of coastal areas under a hurricane warning (red), hurricane watch (pink), tropical storm warning (blue) and tropical storm watch (yellow). The orange circle indicates the current position of the center of the tropical cyclone. The black line, when selected, and dots show the National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecast track of the center at the times indicated. For a full description, check the NOAA page.

If you thought Harvey was bad, Irma promises to be even worse. The “extremely dangerous” Category 5 hurricane is already the strongest hurricane ever recorded outside the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour. The all-time record for a hurricane is 190 miles per hour.

Irma “will bring life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall hazards to portions of the northeastern Leeward Islands tonight and tomorrow,” the National Hurricane Center reported Tuesday evening. “Preparations should be rushed to completion before the arrival of tropical-storm force winds tomorrow morning in Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.”

The storm immediately threatens the small islands of the northern Leewards, including Antigua and Barbuda, as well as the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has not seen a storm of this magnitude for at least 100 years.

“The Leeward Islands are going to get destroyed,” warned Colorado State University meteorology professor Phil Klotzbach, a noted hurricane expert. “I just pray that this thing wobbles and misses them. This is a serious storm.”

Image credits: NOAA.

Additionally, the hurricane is on course for the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and the southeastern Bahamas. Additionally, computer models indicate that the hurricane will almost certainly reach the Florida Keys, where it will encounter a fertile ground to brew an even bigger storm. The warm waters could accelerate the winds to over 220 mph, according to some models.

As a result, the entire state of Florida, especially South Florida, has been warned to take all possible precautions. It’s not known whether the hurricane will move on the eastern side of the state, on its western side, or go straight through it. But again, citizens are instructed to stockpile three days’ provisions and move out of Irma’s path, if possible. Mayor Carlos Gimenez said the voluntary evacuations could start as soon as Wednesday.

It’s still not clear exactly where Irma will go, but it’s definitely the kind of storm you don’t want to chance with — especially as the warnings grow more ominous.

“The chance of direct impacts from Irma later this week and this weekend is increasing in the Florida Keys and portions of the Florida Peninsula,” the hurricane center states. “However, it is too soon to specify the timing and magnitude of the impacts.”

Judging by the sheer size of the hurricane, it seems very likely that Florida will be at least partially hit.

“The hurricane force winds in Irma are wider than Florida,” tweeted Bryan Norcross, hurricane specialist at the Weather Channel. “You won’t need a direct hit to get Wilma-type winds & storm surge on both coasts.”

Elsewhere on Irma’s path, similar measures are urged.

“The decisions that we make in the next couple of hours can make the difference between life and death,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. “This is an extremely dangerous storm.”

For a large hurricane, especially one of this size, the storm’s eyewall — the area around the relatively calm eye of the storm — is where the most damage tends to happen, and where the strongest winds tend to concentrate. But winds alone don’t make a strong hurricane. The storm surge and heavy rainfall also play a role, and a Category 5 hurricane hits all three on all aspects.

To keep an eye on Irma, you can follow: