Hurricane Irma is causing havoc across the Caribbean as it races towards the US mainland. The vast scale of the storm is being captured by meteorologists and officials have issued warnings for islands in the region.
At the time of writing, Irma is heading west-northwest and travelling at around 17mph. So far nine people have been reported as being killed by Irma and officials expect this number to rise. Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Barbuda, said the island was “barely habitable,” and had been left as “literally rubble,” with 95 per cent of the buildings damaged.
Irma is the biggest Atlantic storm for a decade. And the numbers behind it reveal a truly terrifying force.
The strongest winds
According to meteorologists at Colorado State University, Irma’s maximum wind speeds have reached 185mph. This ties it with the 1935 Florida Keys hurricane and Hurricane Gilbert from 1988. At present, Irma only trails Hurricane Allen, which hit 190mph wind speeds.
Longer than ever before
The 185mph wind speeds have been constant for 33 hours, “the longest any cyclone around the globe has maintained that intensity on record,” according to Philip Klotzbach from Colorado State University. Irma has been a category five hurricane, the most destructive rating possible, for 1.75 days.
As strong as it gets
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is used to determine what level of hurricane each storm is classed as. Irma is considered to be a category five hurricane. Winds above 157mph push a hurricane into the highest category.
“A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse,” the US National Hurricane Centre explained in a statement. “Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months”.
Wider than Texas
Irma had an initial footprint of more than 500 miles wide but has since grown to 800 miles in width. Stockholm University’s Josh Lewis says its sheer scale means it poses a significant risk to the mainland US, as well as the Caribbean islands that lie in its predicted path.
Huge amounts of energy
Wind energy from cyclones is measured and calculated through a system called accumulated cyclone energy, or ACE for short. Hurricane/Typhoon Ioke has the highest recorded ACE, with a figure of 82. Klotzbach, while not giving a number for Irma, says it has generated more ACE than the first eight named storms of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season.