Irma Update: Now Cat 5, Targeting Florida

September 5, 2017

Story below was written last October, but even more relevant today.

Jason Samenow in Washington Post:

A Category 3 or stronger hurricane, defined as a “major” hurricane, has not made landfall on the U.S. coastline in exactly 11 years. By far, this 11-year stretch is the longest period on record without a major hurricane strike.

The last major hurricane to come ashore was Wilma along Florida’s southwest coast on Oct. 24, 2005.

So, yes, by strict definition, the nation is experiencing a record-breaking “major-hurricane drought.”

As US impact becomes more likely than not, one has to ponder the potential political impacts of a double whammy from storms like these. David Titley raised the issue yesterday when the chances of a hit were smaller.

But the criteria for what makes a major hurricane is impossibly restrictive. It is tied to a single hazard, wind, and ignores impacts from water, which causes the lion’s share of fatalities and damage in most hurricanes.

While big wind speeds grab people’s attention and sound scary, precious few people, if any, ever experience a storm’s peak winds. Such high winds are typically confined to a tiny area near the hurricane’s eye.

But tens of thousands of people are exposed to a hurricane’s water, whether it’s freshwater flooding from heavy rainfall or coastal flooding from storm surge, the rise in ocean water as the hurricane comes ashore.

Because the definition of a major hurricane ignores the effects of water, it omits some of the most consequential storms in modern history, which have occurred during the so-called drought.

Satellite view of Superstorm Sandy, 2012.

Satellite view of Superstorm Sandy, 2012.

Consider, in the 11 years since Wilma, two of the three most costly storms in U.S. history occurred: Sandy in 2012, and Hurricane Ike in 2008 — neither of which was classified as “major.”

The damage from Sandy was estimated to be about $75 billion, making the storm the second most expensive in U.S. history (only Katrina carried a higher price tag). Ike, which slammed northeast Texas, caused $37.5 billion in damage, ranking it as the third-costliest storm.

Ike was a Category 2 hurricane at landfall, while Sandy wasn’t even technically classified as a hurricane (because it had acquired some characteristics of nontropical storms).

Both of these storms produced devastating storm surges that inundated the coast. Yet we tell people that Ike and Sandy were not “major” storms.

Ike and Sandy demonstrated the devastating consequences of water, and so, too, have other hurricanes since. For example, rain indirectly associated with Hurricane Joaquin in 2015, which never even made landfall in the United States, claimed 12 lives in South Carolina and caused about $12 billion in damage. That’s an amount comparable to Hurricane Hugo, which, of course, was considered a major hurricane since it happened to have 135-mph winds (earning it a Category 4 rating).

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3 Responses to “Irma Update: Now Cat 5, Targeting Florida”


  1. The USA really doesn’t need this right now.

    It’s going to end up wrecked if this is what’s expected from now on. And we’ve only just started to warm up with plenty more heat built into the climate system.

    No wonder some religious freaks believe the End of Days is coming.

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    The USA DOES in fact “need” this right now. Just as it needs maybe one or two more substantial hurricanes making landfall before the season ends, more waves of tornadoes across the south, raging wildfires in the west and midwest, torrential downpours everywhere, and massive repeated snowfalls in the northeast this winter.

    As I mentioned on another thread, the Black Swan events have arrived in such numbers that they have morphed into a Black Elephant in the room, and not enough Americans can see that (or don’t want to). Some “wreckage” MAY just get us to pay better attention to AGW.

    Of course, I don’t want any of this wreckage to occur within 200 miles of my house or those of my friends and relatives in other states. I am a typical American, after all.

    PS The religious freaks may be on to something with their “end of days” BS, although the reasons have little to do with their ravings. It’s simply that the laws of physics specify that if we keep heating up the planet, catastrophe will descend on us (although one just might see the hand of Satan guiding Trump and all the others who favor run amok capitalism and the burning of fossil fuels)


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