Caribbean braces itself as superstorm Irma hits the region
By Will Bugler
The small island states of the Caribbean are bracing themselves today as superstorm Irma hits the region. Fed by the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea Irma has continued to gain in strength reaching the highest category 5 status, with wind speeds peaking at 185 miles per hour. This makes the storm more powerful that both hurricanes Katrina and Andrew, and the strongest ever Atlantic storm. The Caribbean Islands of Barbuda, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Bahamas and Cuba are all likely to be hit, and the storm is expected to make landfall in Florida by the weekend.
Meteorologists have watched with alarm as Irma has developed into a ‘worst case scenario’ for the region – with wind speeds reaching levels that were not thought to be theoretically possible for a hurricane in this environment. Winds of this magnitude, accompanied by heavy rainfall, are expected to cause widespread devastation to anything in the storm’s path.
The projected storm track is also particularly worrying. The storm travels in a north-westerly direction, perfectly dissecting the northern Caribbean Islands, and heading directly for the Florida peninsular. Irma’s size means that it would engulf the entire peninsular by Sunday.
After hurricane Harvey caused widespread damage to the region, dumping 129 cm (51 inches) of rain on Houston – Irma will be the second major storm to hit the region this year. Estimates from insurance giant Swiss Re project the impact of a category 5 hurricane directly hitting Florida could run to US$ 300 billion. Florida’s coastal property and low elevation makes it particularly at risk for storm surges and coastal flooding. Residents in many parts of the region have been urged to evacuate.
For the small island states of the Caribbean, the storm presents a grave threat to lives and livelihoods. In Puerto Rico, damage to power lines could leave the island without electricity for many months, and widespread damage to crops and housing is inevitable.
Recent studies show that whilst climate change may not increase the overall frequency of Hurricanes in the region, it is likely to increase the size and strength of those that do form. In this sense, the intensity of storms like Harvey and Irma could be a sign of things to come.