When its maximum sustained winds hit 185 miles per hour on Tuesday, Hurricane Irma became one of the Atlantic Ocean’s most intense storms on record.
The storm appears destined to target the U.S., with Florida at particular risk of seeing a landfall over the weekend, but not before the storm wreaks havoc from the Lesser Antilles to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba, among other areas.
Satellites and “hurricane hunter” aircraft allowed for amazing images of this meteorological marvel. Here are some of the best ones we’ve found, which will be updated as the storm continues to develop.
Typically, storms of such a high intensity form in the western Pacific Ocean, where the ocean heat content tends to support them. However, Hurricane Irma has found itself in an area of abundant ocean heat, as sea surface temperatures are unusually mild and the ocean near the Lesser Antilles is at or near its climatological peak for the year.
Unfortunately, the ocean waters ahead of the storm are even warmer, suggesting the potential for more intensification, depending on other factors.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the storm tied for second on the list of Atlantic hurricanes ranked by wind speed.
Hurricane Wilma in 2005 was the most recent Atlantic storm to be as strong as Irma, with maximum sustained winds of 185 miles per hour at its peak. The all-time record for strongest winds in an Atlantic hurricane is 190 miles per hour, measured in Hurricane Allen in 1980.
Hurricane Irma could yet tie or beat that remarkable record.