Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

According to the National Hurricane Center, Irma had maximum sustained winds of 185 mph (295 kph) when it made landfall in Barbuda and is expected to remain at Category 4 or 5 strength as it pushes westward to the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba. (Photo: NOAA)

A Storm That Could 'Rewrite History': Irma Hits as Most Powerful Atlantic Hurricane Ever Recorded

"The dangerousness of this event is like nothing we've ever seen," warns governor of Puerto Rico as mega-storm makes landfall in the Caribbean

Jon Queally

Fueled by warm ocean waters and fulfilling some of the most ominous predictions from climate scientists who warned that powerful storms would occur with increasing frequency and intensity, a "ferocious" Hurricane Irma slammed into the islands of Barbuda and Antigua early Wednesday morning as the most powerful Category 5 hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.

Irma's landfall comes less than two weeks after Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm, devastated the Texas coast and the city of Houston, killing dozens of people and now estimated to be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

According to the National Hurricane Center, Irma had maximum sustained winds of 185 mph (295 kph) when it made landfall in Barbuda and is expected to remain at Category 4 or 5 strength as it pushes westward to the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba.

In Barbuda, reports the Associated Press, "the storm ripped the roof off the island's police station forcing officers to seek refuge in the nearby fire station and at the community center that served as an official shelter." Communications between islands had been knocked out as well and officials on the ground said it could be days before the extent of the damage is known. 

"Quite simply," wrote Eric Holthaus for Grist overnight, "meteorologists never expected a storm like Irma. The storm appears to have exceeded (or is about to exceed) the maximum theoretical strength for a hurricane in its environment — an estimate based on current water temperature and other conditions."

Those in the path of Irma, Holthaus wrote, "have never seen a storm this strong. A direct hit could rewrite history for entire islands. The storm packs a punch that’s stronger than Andrew or Katrina, two of the most notorious recent hurricanes. In Antigua, one of the islands in Irma’s direct path, the national meteorological service lapsed into prayer."

A state of emergency has been declared in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Florida—where the storm could hit later this week. Despite various models, the ultimate path of the storm remains uncertain.

Guardian graphic | Source: National Hurricane Center. All times AST (Atlantic Standard Time)

"The dangerousness of this event is like nothing we've ever seen," said Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello. "A lot of infrastructure won't be able to withstand this kind of force."

As Holthaus notes in his assessment, Irma has already made history on her own, but coupled with the recent devastation of Harvey in Texas, the pair of storms represent a troubling new precedent:

Should the hurricane make landfall in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, or Florida, it will set a regrettable record — the first-ever back-to-back U.S. landfalls of Category 4 or higher storms.

Hurricane Harvey’s catastrophic impact in Texas and Louisiana now ranks as the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. (Hurricane Katrina cost an estimated $150 billion in 2017 dollars, and the Texas governor’s office estimates Harvey could cost $180 billion.) A recent study examined the possibility of a Category 5 hurricane strike in downtown Miami. It calculated that damages from that nightmare scenario could cost upward of $300 billion.

As improbable as it may seem, two of the worst hurricanes in U.S. history might hit in the span of just two weeks.

As many are noting, the threat to human life, infrastructure, and national economies are impossible to ignore:

 


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Protesting Fuel Poverty, People Tell UK Government to 'Keep Everyone Warm This Winter'

As energy bills—and fossil fuel profits—continue to soar, demonstrators around Britain demanded immediate action from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and members of Parliament.

Kenny Stancil ·


'Turn Off the Tap on Plastic,' UN Chief Declares Amid Debate Over New Global Treaty

"Plastics are fossil fuels in another form," said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, "and pose a serious threat to human rights, the climate, and biodiversity."

Kenny Stancil ·


EPA Urged to 'Finish the Job' After Latest Move to Protect Bristol Bay From Pebble Mine

"Local residents, scientists, and the broader public all agree that this is quite simply a bad place for a mine, and it is past time for the EPA to take Pebble off the table permanently," said one activist in Alaska.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Zero Tolerance for Corruption': Grijalva, Porter Demand Answers on Alleged Trump Pardon Bribery Scheme

The Democrats believe a real estate developer donated to a Trump-aligned super PAC in exchange for the pardons of two other men.

Julia Conley ·


Millions of Americans Lack Adequate Health Coverage, But the Pentagon Has a New Nuclear Bomber to Flaunt

"This ominous death machine, with its price tag of $750 million a pop, brings huge profits to Northrop Grumman but takes our society one more step down the road of spiritual death," peace activist Medea Benjamin said of the new B-21 Raider.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo