Buzz, Extreme Weather, Hurricane, Puerto Rico, Science, Virgin Islands

Historic Hurricane Irma acts as buzzsaw to islands, threatens U.S.


(Note: This post will be updated throughout the day as more forecast information becomes available.)

Hurricane Irma is rewriting weather history for the Atlantic Ocean, setting numerous records for its ferocity on Tuesday into Wednesday. The storm set a milestone for the most powerful hurricane on record in the Atlantic Ocean, outside of the Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico. 

Only Hurricane Allen in 1980 had higher sustained winds, of 190 miles per hour. 

The storm struck Barbuda on Tuesday night and has been slamming Anguilla and Antigua as well, among other locations.  

St Maarten airport reported sustained winds at 133 mph gusting to 161 at storm’s peak there.

These islands are likely to receive extensive, potentially catastrophic damage from storm surge flooding and winds that are equivalent to an EF-4 tornado.

Remarkably, Hurricane Irma has maintained its Category 5 intensity for nearly 24 hours, which is unusual for such storms since they typically encounter environmental conditions that cause them to sputter, such as cooler ocean waters or strong upper level winds that can disrupt their inner circulations. 

When the storm hit Barbuda, an anemometer there registered a wind gust of 155 miles per hour before ceasing to function, according to the National Hurricane Center. 

The storm was the most powerful hurricane ever to hit the Leeward Islands, according to hurricane expert Philip Klotzbach of Colorado State University.

Irma is likely to directly impact the British Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico on Wednesday, with the potential for extensive damage.

Overnight, computer models shifted the storm’s projected track north and eastward by this weekend, putting southern Florida in its crosshairs but also raising the likelihood that the storm could skirt the eastern coast of the state and make landfall in the Carolinas instead. 

Multiple weather systems will play a role in determining Hurricane Irma’s path, including a dip in the jet stream across the Northeast, and an upper level disturbance diving southeast from the Midwest later this week. 

Computer models are having a tough time getting a handle on these weather features, and forecasters are warning that the uncertainty in the track forecast for day 5 is unusually high. 

This means that Florida residents should prepare for a possible landfalling Category 3, 4, or 5 storm by this weekend, but be aware that the forecast could still change. Keep in mind that average 5-day track forecast errors are about 225 miles, according to the Hurricane Center.

The current track forecast from the Hurricane Center places the center of a Category 4 Hurricane Irma in south central Florida by Sunday, which would be a potentially devastating track for Miami. This is because it would keep Miami on the stronger, right-hand side of the storm, with onshore winds pushing a storm surge into the city. 

Some computer models, however, keep the storm offshore, sparing Florida of the worst impacts, and instead take its wrath into the Carolinas. 



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