Hurricane Irma’s epic size is being fueled by global warming

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By Michael Le Page

It’s a monster. As the eye of Hurricane Irma approached the tiny island of Barbuda this morning, wind speeds soared to 250 kph before the instrument broke.

At the time of writing, all contact with the island had been lost and it is unclear how the 1600 inhabitants have fared. But already reports of severe destruction are coming in from other islands in Irma’s path.

The destruction could be extreme. Hurricane Irma has the strongest winds of any hurricane to form in the open Atlantic, with sustained wind speeds of 295 kph.

It is also huge. The strongest winds are limited to a relatively small area around its center, but hurricane-force winds of 118 kph or more extend out 85 kilometers from its eye.

Irma could yet grow stronger and is going to graze or directly hit many densely-populated islands in the Caribbean before possibly making landfall in Florida on Sunday – but there is still a lot of uncertainty about its path and intensity this far ahead.

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25 COMMENTS

  1. As I sit here, in Tampa, Florida, at work, not “working” (everyone is monitoring this thing), I marvel at the science that allows us to know this is coming with a good approximation of the path it will take (not to mention all of the other measurements: wind speeds, barometric pressure, etc). That said it’s time to batten down the hatches here. I’ve been here my entire life and we’ve dealt with many of these, but that doesn’t ease the inevitable anxiety that comes with these lumbering storms. You know what’s coming, you can’t speed it up, you can’t do anything to make it deviate from its course, etc.

  2. One of Trump’s advisers (Conway) was asked about global while she was being interviewed about Hurricane Harvey, and she said: “I think it’s highly inappropriate to talk about global warming in the middle of a hurricane.” Awful people. All of them.

    Steven, hi. Good luck. Be safe.

    (Maybe I am a little bit of a contrarian. One must be rigorously honest in life.)

  3. Good luck, 007; Steven, hi. Good luck. Be safe

    Thanks, gentlemen. Yes Phil, that’s the hope (spent energy).

    Dan, I think all of us here are contrarian to an extent. Certainly in all of its synonymous meanings.

  4. Good luck Steven. I’m here in Panama City Beach and temporarily out of the line of fire but we are both suffering from cone shift at the moment. Small consolation is that major properties owned by Trump, Rush Limbaugh and the Koch Bros. are also in the cross-hairs.

  5. IRMA dropped to a category 3 at Cuba, but over the warm Gulf waters has again, picked up to a category 4. It now looks like it will track up the west coast of Florida!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-41216890

    Hurricane Irma has strengthened to a category four storm as it nears Florida, with maximum sustained winds of 130mph (209km/h).

    Hurricane force wind gusts are battering islands in Florida’s south, the governor says, with the mainland due to be hit in the coming hours.

    Water levels are already rising on the coast of the US state where a huge storm surge is expected.

    More than 200,000 homes in the state have been affected by power outages, with 164,000 outages in Miami Dade county alone, according to utilities company Florida Power & Light.

    The Florida Keys have suffered some minor damage and are expected to bear the brunt of the storm in the coming hours.

    The western Gulf coast is expected to be worst affected, with cities such as Tampa and St Petersburg in the path of the storm.

    The Tampa Bay area, with a population of about three million, has not been hit by a major hurricane since 1921.

    Another storm, Jose, further out in the Atlantic behind Irma, is now a category four hurricane, with winds of up to 145mph.

    It is following a similar path to Irma and already hampering relief efforts in some of the worst affected areas.

    It looks like Jose is picking up energy and water vapour, from the same warm Atlantic waters as Irma.

  6. Steven007 #4
    Sep 8, 2017 at 11:41 am

    As I sit here, in Tampa, Florida, at work, not “working” (everyone is monitoring this thing), I marvel at the science that allows us to know this is coming with a good approximation of the path it will take

    I hope that the effect of land on the storm, causing the down-grade to category 2 and then to category 1, has spared you serious damage, and that the flooding from the surge and the rain has not been too bad!

    As a tropical storm, it has now taken its heavy rain away to the north, so the clear-up in Tampa can begin. (Although river levels may still be an issue)

    Best wishes!!

  7. @OP – It’s a monster. As the eye of Hurricane Irma approached the tiny island of Barbuda this morning, wind speeds soared to 250 kph before the instrument broke.

    https://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2017/09/11/hurricane-jose-potential-threat-u-s-east-coast-next-week/653446001/

    Hurricane Jose a potential threat to U.S. East Coast next week

    Hurricane Jose, now meandering around the western Atlantic Ocean roughly 300 miles northeast of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

    As of 11 a.m. ET, Jose had winds of 105 mph, making it a Category 2 storm.

    Fortunately, over the weekend, Jose only brushed the islands of the Caribbean that had been slammed by Irma, such as Barbuda, Antigua and the Virgin Islands.

    Thankfully these devastated islands have been spared the full force of a second hurricane!

    As for its forecast, hurricanes in this part of the Atlantic often race out to sea and into oblivion, but that won’t be the case with Jose.

    Calling it an “odd forecast track,” the National Hurricane Center said that Jose should make a small clockwise loop over the open waters of the Atlantic for the next three days. This is due, the center said, to an area of high pressure that will move around the hurricane over the next several days.

    Long-range models suggest that the strengthening high-pressure area will then force the hurricane to move west-northwest toward the East Coast, according to the Weather Underground.

    Models show a wide range of possibilities, all the way from South Carolina to Newfoundland, or even out to sea. Of 20 runs of the GFS model ensemble forecast Monday morning, 25% resulted in an eventual landfall in the U.S., and another 25% in Canada. The rest kept the storm out to sea.

    For the European weather model, a recurvature out to sea or a landfall in New England or Canada were the preferred solutions.

    As for intensity, the hurricane center is predicting a high-end Category 1 hurricane with 90-mph winds by Saturday.

    Any potential direct hit from Jose wouldn’t be until next week, however.

    “Until Jose is farther along on its loop, the models are likely to have large errors, and we should not take too much comfort (or indulge in too much angst) over a particular set of model runs,” Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters said.

  8. The next hurricane to follow IRMA’s track over warm waters, is a category 1 and building!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-41302157

    Maria is expected to become a dangerous major hurricane as it nears the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean.

    The category one hurricane will rapidly strengthen over the next 48 hours and will hit the islands late on Monday, says the US National Hurricane Center.

    It is moving roughly along the same path as Irma, the hurricane that devastated the region this month.

    Hurricane warnings have been issued for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat and Martinique.

    A hurricane watch is now in effect for Puerto Rico, the US and British Virgin Islands, St Martin, St Barts, Saba, St Eustatius and Anguilla.

    Some of these islands are still recovering after being hit by Irma – the category five hurricane which left at least 37 people dead and caused billions of dollars’ worth of damage.

    In its latest update on Monday, the NHC says Maria has maximum sustained winds of 90mph (150 km/h).

    The eye of the storm is 100 miles east of Martinique, and Maria is moving west-northwest at about 13mph.

    “Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the NHC says.

    The most southerly point of the Leeward Islands – where Maria will first strike – include Antigua and Barbuda. The latter island was evacuated after being devastated by Irma.

    So unfortunately some previously devastated areas, look like they could have heavy rain from the tropical storm, and possibly hurricane force winds and a storm-surge!

    The NHC says that “a dangerous storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves will raise water levels by as much as 5-7ft (1.5-2.1m) above normal tide levels near where the centre of Maria moves across the Leeward Islands”.

    It also forecasts a maximum potential rainfall of 20in (51cm) in some areas of the central and southern Leeward Islands – including Puerto Rico and the US and British Virgin Islands – through to Wednesday night.

    “Rainfall on all of these islands could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” it warned.

  9. This link has now been updated.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-41302157

    Hurricane Maria is expected to strengthen further as it nears the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean.

    It has been upgraded to a category two hurricane, and is forecast to hit the islands late on Monday, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) says.

    In its latest update on Monday, the NHC said that Maria had maximum sustained winds of 175 km/h (110mph).

    The Puerto Rican government has issued a statement saying it expects the hurricane to make landfall there as a category three on Tuesday.

    A second hurricane, Jose, is also active in the Atlantic, with maximum sustained winds of 90mph.

  10. Running over the warmed ocean surface water, Maria continues to strengthen.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-41302157

    Hurricane Maria has strengthened to a major category 3 hurricane, US forecasters say, as it heads towards the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean.

    In its latest update on Monday, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said that Maria had maximum sustained winds of 195 km/h (120mph).

    The eye of the storm is 100 miles east of Martinique, and Maria is moving west-northwest at about 13mph.

  11. People really do need to take global warming seriously if intensified storms are not to become regular features in future!

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/18/hurricane-maria-intensifies-category-4-caribbean

    Caribbean braced as Hurricane Maria intensifies to category 4 storm

    Hurricane Maria has intensified into a category 4 storm as it barrels towards the eastern Caribbean islands still working to provide basic food, water and health services to the regions hard hit by Hurricane Irma.

    The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the “major hurricane” was already producing maximum sustained winds of 215 kilometres (130 miles) an hour and would strengthen further over the next two days.

    The NHC warned Hurricane Maria could produce a “dangerous storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves” that would raise water levels by as much as 9ft (2.7 metres) as it approached approached the French territory of Guadeloupe, the base for relief operations for several islands devastated by Irma this month.

    Many scientists are convinced that megastorms such as Irma, and Harvey before it, are intensified by the greater energy they can draw from oceans that are warming as a result of climate change.

  12. Good luck to 007.
    Now the bad news. What IF the hurricane season doesn’t decline and continues for several months?
    Is that the future?
    Its hard to believe this is just an aberration at this point. Are we going to see a movement of people to the North to escape the climate?

  13. alf1200 #19
    Sep 18, 2017 at 10:39 pm

    Its hard to believe this is just an aberration at this point.
    Are we going to see a movement of people to the North to escape the climate?

    Informed opinion is already aware of this, despite obstruction by vested interests and denialists!

    http://www.climate2020.org.uk/managing-climate-driven-migration/

    Migration trends

    Of the one billion migrants on the planet, 232 million are international migrants. Nearly three-quarters – 740 million – are internal migrants. People move for a variety of reasons, influenced by economic, social, political, environmental and demographic conditions.

    However, there are a growing number of people displaced by conflict and natural disasters. An estimated 50 million are currently displaced by conflict, the highest number since World War II, of which 16.7 million are refugees¹ and 33.3 million internally displaced people.²

    Likewise, the number of people displaced by natural disasters has grown: an average of 27 million people each year between 2008 and 2013 were displaced, with significant differences from year to year, but with no fewer than 15 million every year.³ We should also be concerned about the growing numbers of people who would need to be mobile to adapt and be resilient to climate change, but who do not have the resources. This puts them at greater risk.

    Climate change affects migration flows by influencing factors that drive population movement. First, greater frequency and intensity of weather-related disasters, both sudden and slow onset, lead to humanitarian emergencies and increased movement. Second, rising sea levels make coastal areas and low-lying islands uninhabitable, resulting in migration and displacement. Third, competition over shrinking natural resources exacerbates tensions that fuel conflict and displacement. Fourth, climate variability affects livelihoods, food security and water availability, which lead affected populations to seek alternative sources of income in other locations.

    Least developed countries will be most affected as they have fewer resources to adapt. The same is true for populations of low-lying islands, whose challenges were addressed at the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States and at the UN Climate Summit held in New York in September 2014.
    Over 75 million people live just one metre or less above sea level, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that much of this coastal land may be under water within the lifetimes of people alive today, placing this population at significant risk of mass displacement.

    In addition to these pressures, environmental change can alter other factors that influence migratory patterns, making it difficult to isolate the environment as the primary driver. Because people often associate climate change with forced migration, it seems counter-intuitive that changing environmental conditions also diminish levels of ‘outmigration’ by reducing household incomes and trapping people who lack the resources to move. This creates a vicious cycle that makes them even more vulnerable.

    Climate change therefore makes tens of millions of people a year vulnerable in complex ways, both by forcing displacement and limiting people’s ability to use mobility to adapt. This makes it hard to apply the traditional distinctions between forced and voluntary, and temporary and permanent migration. It also makes it difficult to project the numbers of climate-vulnerable people. Current forecasts for the number of climate-induced migrants by 2050 vary between 25 million and one billion, depending on various climate scenarios, the adaptation measures taken and other political and demographic factors.4 This estimate of vulnerable people would rise if one were to take into account those who cannot move but need to.

    The International Organization for Migration (IOM) remains committed to furthering its research initiatives while focusing actions on the populations of greatest concern, . . . .

    Funded by the European Union, the project aims to address the lack of comparable data on displaced populations. It has developed a cross-country comparative analysis of six pilot countries: Dominican Republic, Haiti, Kenya, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea and Viet Nam.

  14. Maria has powered up to category 5.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-41317164

    Dominica has suffered “widespread damage” from Hurricane Maria, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit says.

    “We have lost all that money can buy,” he said in a Facebook post.

    The hurricane suddenly strengthened to a “potentially catastrophic” category five storm, before making landfall on the Caribbean island.

    Earlier Mr Skerrit had posted live updates as his own roof was torn off, saying he was “at the complete mercy of the hurricane”.

    “My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains,” he wrote after being rescued.

    Maria is moving roughly along the same track as Irma, the hurricane that devastated the region earlier this month.

    It has maximum sustained winds of 250km/h (155mph), and was downgraded to a category four after hitting Dominica, before picking up full strength again.

  15. Strange how deniers like Trump and Co. cannot see the connection between warm waters, warm air which holds more moisture, and costly damaging hurricanes!

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2017/sep/19/hurricane-maria-landfall-dominica-caribbean-category-five-storm-live

    Maria regains category 5 status

    As predicted Maria has picked up intensity to become a category 5 hurricane again after briefly dipping to category 4.

    In its latest update the the US National Hurricane Center said:

    Recent reports from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate that Maria has reintensified to category 5 status, with estimated maximum sustained winds of 160 mph (260 km/h).

    Maria is moving west-northwest at 9 mph towards the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico which it is forecast to hit later on Tuesday and Wednesday.

  16. Thanks for the kind words Alan, Phil, Dan, rjohn19, alf1200 and everyone else who’s expressed concern. An update. It’s been a busy two weeks. We got “lucky”. Irma was somewhat neutered by the time she roared through my area. We still had gusts in the 90’s and low triple digits. I lost power for ~ 72 hrs. My employer lost power for an entire week. I’ve heard that the effort to restore power to Florida is the largest effort in US history. This is a dubious distinction that likely won’t last long as these storms now intensify with great alacrity. There were power trucks and energy teams in my neighborhood from the Carolina’s, Texas and Canada. They were heroic in getting our power restored. Many still do not have power. Duke Energy (the local power provider) has received bomb threats this morning and is on lockdown (their office is a block away from my employer so we received an email to stay away).

    We see with Maria that it’s a powerful Cat 5 and likely will be until it reaches land and then hopefully turns out to sea and cooler waters. The current path has it possibly threatening the eastern seaboard of the US. It looks like Puerto Rico will be pummeled. It’s clear that the warm oceans, which have always powered these storms, have now become jet fuel for them. NDGT recently stated that he thought it was probably too late to make a major impact on manmade warming. And as alf noted, this will eventually impact as an extension to the traditional hurricane season and a possible migration for some people who are often in the path of these storms. This will eventually affect property values, the economy, etc. We are just now beginning to barrel down this slippery, chaotic slope…

  17. Steven007 #23
    Sep 19, 2017 at 11:16 am

    Glad to see you are recovering, and escaped some of the worst of it.

    It looks like some unfortunate island dwellers are in for a double dose!

  18. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41528582

    US employment fell in September for the first time since 2010 as hurricanes Harvey and Irma took their toll on the jobs market.

    The Labor Department said 33,000 jobs were lost amid a record drop in employment in the leisure and hospitality sector.

    It blamed the two storms, which struck Texas and Florida in late August and early September, for the slide.

    Economists had expected a rise of 90,000 jobs last month.

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