Everyone Is Talking About Hurricane Irma. We Spoke to a Hurricane Meteorologist to Find out How Serious It Is

While Texans are busy recovering from the horrific damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma has grown into a monster in the Atlantic.

Irma is currently a Category 5 hurricane, which makes it much stronger than Harvey was. In response, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) declared a state of emergency, as the storm is predicted to hit the U.S. sometime later this week.

Independent Journal Review wanted to know more about Irma and how bad it could potentially end up being. We spoke to Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University with more than 17 years of experience studying hurricanes.

We asked Klotzbach if Irma would hit the U.S. as suggested.

“The governor declaring a state of emergency means they are taking this very seriously. There is a high probability that Irma will hit. Right now, it’s still 120 hours away from making landfall. Florida is not that wide of a state. Irma could theoretically cover the entire southern region of Florida,” Klotzbach said.

The biggest problem from Harvey wasn’t its winds, but the amount of rain it dropped into Texas. IJR wanted to see if Klotzbach had a general idea of what kind of rainfall to expect from Irma.

Klotzbach said:

“It’s too early to tell what kind of rain it will drop. Hurricanes are known for one of three things: They either go down as a flooding event, a surge event, or a wind event.

It will most likely be known more for its wind or a surge than its rain. You could have a storm like Katrina that’s a Category 3 and it can still cause massive damage, though. You have to look at more than just the categories.”

So what kind of damage could Irma’s fierce winds cause? According to Klotzbach, a lot.

“When you are looking at 185 mph winds, it’s a mind-blowing number. You’re looking at what Hurricane Andrew did, where two-by-fours were thrown through stuff. The force of the wind is not quite a tornado,” Klotzbach said. “The islands in the Caribbean are about to get pummeled with the worst storm they’ve ever seen. There is only one hurricane that was as strong as this one was in the Caribbean — Hurricane David in 1979, and it wiped out nearly 80 percent of the housing in the Dominican Republic.”

Is it comparable to Harvey in the kind of destruction it could create? Klotzbach thinks it’s possible.

He said:

“If it makes landfall in South Florida, it will still bring impact up into the panhandle. It will weaken, but it is not going to lose a ton of strength. It really depends on where it all goes ashore.

You could have a massive storm surge in a metropolitan area. It could have potential to cause as much in damage and loss of life as Harvey, but it’s still a little too early to tell.”

As the Florida Keys have issued a mandatory evacuation for visitors since the Irma news, IJR wanted to get Klotzbach’s thoughts about moving away from the hurricane.

“Each county will tell you if you need to get out. If I were [in] certain areas, I would personally get out of some locations. Don’t think you’re smarter if emergency management where you live tells you to leave. Irma isn’t something to laugh about it or ignore. There are only five other storms on record that are strong as the current one,” Klotzbach warned.

Here’s what Irma looks like from space:

Klotzbach isn’t the only meteorologist sounding the alarm over Irma. On Tuesday afternoon, meteorologist Eric Holthaus tweeted, “If you’re in Irma’s path, this is a worst-case scenario. You’ve never experienced a hurricane like this. Stronger than Andrew or Katrina.”

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