At first glance, you might think that Hurricane Irma, which is forecast to hit Florida as a Category 4 storm, is weaker than 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, which was a Category 5 beast. However, the two storms have one all-important difference.
Hurricane Irma is far larger than Andrew was, and has far more destructive potential. It will also drive a bigger storm surge, because its winds are blowing across a broader swath of the sea, pushing more water toward shore.
According to data from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami, Hurricane Andrew had a diameter of hurricane-force winds of 74 miles per hour or greater that was just 50 miles across.
Since it crossed over land about 25 miles south of Miami, Andrew’s small size meant that it spared the city and its pricey, waterfront real estate of its worst winds. Meanwhile, areas south of the city, like Homestead, Florida, were devastated by the compact, fierce eyewall associated with Andrew.
Hurricane Irma, on the other hand, has hurricane force winds that may extend across the entire state of Florida, depending on its exact path. The diameter of hurricane force winds around the center of Irma was 126 miles as of Friday morning, according to meteorologist Ryan Maue. Meanwhile, the diameter of tropical storm force winds was huge, at a remarkable 322 to 345 miles.
Satellite imagery of the two storms also reflects this disparity.