Harvey and Irma Wreak Havoc

Posted: September 12, 2017, 8:41 pm by nwiles

Before 2017, the last major hurricane to make landfall in the continental U.S. was Wilma in 2005, leaving some to believe that they were still in the clear while others felt that their time was almost up. Regardless of the odds, there is no real pecking order to where the next tropical system will set its eye on. In fact, from the start of June to the end of November anywhere along east coast of North America and the Caribbean Sea is fair game for the next landfall. So when the forecasts for this year's hurricane season came out, many believed that it would be a active season; however, no one anticipated that Harvey and Irma would be the ones to break the major hurricane landfall drought.

Following landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on August 25th near Rockport, TX, Hurricane Harvey held together as a very powerful and potent system stalling for nearly four days over Texas and Louisiana while dumping a record setting 52" of rain; the most ever from a tropical system in the Lower 48. Despite the central location of Harvey, there was an areal coverage the size of West Virginia that received 20"+ of rain with areas from Houston to Beaumont, TX some of the hardest hit. 

During Harvey's lifetime, the National Weather Service issued 312 tornado warnings across the Deep South, many of which may never truly be confirmed due to the spontaneity and short lifetime of tornadoes during a hurricane. Nearly 3,000 water rescues were performed around the Houston area alone as 911 calls came in by the thousands. While many evacuated to shelters across the state, one shelter in Port Aurthur, TX found themselves in the midst of an evacuation as flood waters inundated the center. Flash flood warnings were issued all the way from Texas and Louisiana to Arkansas and Tennessee as Harvey brought flooding rains to millions of people.

Not only did Harvey hit hard on land but it also hit hard at the gas pump as multiple gas refineries were damaged and shut down along with the Colonial Pipeline, which transports gas to customers in the Northeast, causing prices to spike to levels we haven't seen since 2015. From the air, over 12,000 flights were either delayed or canceled in and out of the area with the bulk of the cancellations coming from George Bush International. In all, experts are estimating the cost of Harvey to be the largest natural disaster in U.S. history at an astounding $180 billion. 

The following weeks featured many efforts from people far and wide as volunteers and donations soared in from all directions. In fact, truck loads of generators from hardware stores all over Florida came in as hundreds of thousands went without power following the destructive storm. While many began to rebuild following Harvey's departure, it wasn't long before citizens of Florida were scrambling for generators of their own as the next major hurricane was just on the horizon.

Far out in the Atlantic Basin, Irma had strengthened into a giant Category 5 Hurricane (tied for the second strongest sustained winds ever in the Atlantic Basin at 185 mph) before it battered many tropical islands including Barbuda, which took the brute force of the eye wall as the whole island was engulfed. Many Caribbean islands including St. Martin were over 90% destroyed and became unrecognizable (even from satellite) as luscious green turned to earthy brown. Along Irma's path, destruction was an understatement as Cuba also took a direct hit from the Category 5 storm, which may have spared portions of Florida as the system weakened prior to its departure for the U.S. mainland.

Caribbean Sea Before/After Irma - Images courtesy of NASA

On September 10th, the peak of hurricane season, Irma made landfall in Cudjoe Key, FL as a Category 4, later making a second landfall in Marco Island as a Category 3. While parts of the Florida Keys were a complete loss, the path Irma took potentially spared many locations from a total catastrophe. As people acknowledged warnings from state and local officials, nearly 1/3 of all Florida residents evacuated to safe locations minimizing the loss of life as hurricane force winds battered almost the entire state. From Miami to Tampa, storm surge and heavy rain also accompanied the potent storm dumping upwards of 10-20" in some areas.

Irma was felt as far north as Jacksonville, FL and Charleston, SC where flood emergencies were issued and water rescues were performed. Power outages spread across much of the Southeast U.S. putting 15 million people in Florida and nearly 1 million in Georgia without power making it one of the nation's largest weather-related power outages ever. Nearly every airport in Florida closed down, some for multiple days due to damage assessments, canceling over 10,000 flights in/out of Florida with over 900 cancelled in Atlanta and 300 in Charlotte.


Man wades through flooded waters in Jacksonville - Image courtesy of NewsInn

In response to Hurricane Harvey, the United States Government raised the debt ceiling in order to help fund relief efforts with little knowledge at the time that money would also be needed following Irma as well. With over $200 billion in total estimated damage from both storms, the numbers continue to climb making it the costliest hurricane season ever recorded. The lessons learned from Harvey may have spared thousands in the way of Irma as crucial preparations began a week before landfall. In all, it goes to show that in the face of disaster we can all come together as a country, helping one another in times of need.

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