Hurricane Irma, a monster storm that officials, meteorologists, journalists, and anyone else with a platform to speak out have been warning us about for the past week is now on the verge of making landfall in the continental U.S.
With Irma about 100 miles off the southern coast of Florida at this writing, storm surges have begun ramping up and have already caused flooding, as noted by extreme meteorologists Reed Timmer and Mike Theiss:
Places like Key West are expected to be entirely underwater when Irma, which is picking up steam after thrashing Cuba overnight on Friday, arrives early Sunday morning. Storm experts say southwestern Florida should expect a storm surge of 10–15 feet above ground level, which is “survivable by no one.”
Irma is a bizarre, monstrous storm thought to be one of the biggest, most powerful hurricanes in modern history. In addition to causing massive destruction already in the Caribbean, it is doing weird shit like completely transforming the ocean, as noted by this Twitter user in the Bahamas:
According to Angela Fritz, an atmospheric scientist and editor at The Washington Post, this is what we’re looking at in the above video:
Basically, Hurricane Irma is so strong and its pressure is so low, it’s sucking water from its surroundings into the core of the storm.
The wind on Long Island in the Bahamas is from the southeast to the northwest on Saturday. On the northwest side of the island, it would be blowing the water away from the shoreline.
It also may be experiencing the effects of what I call the hurricane “bulge.” In the center of the the storm where there is extreme low pressure, water is drawn upward. Low pressure is basically a sucking mechanism — it sucks the air into it, and when it’s really low, it can change the shape of the surface of the ocean. As the storm draws water toward the center, it gets pulled away from the surroundings.
By late Saturday afternoon, Irma had slightly switched directions to the west, with winds at about 125 miles per hour. While that was a little better—but still not good—for Miami, it was horrible news for Tampa and the rest of the western coast of Florida, where many people had gathered hoping to ride out the storm. As the Associated Press noted, Tampa hadn’t seen a major hurricane’s direct hit in almost a century.
“The new course threatened everything from Tampa Bay’s bustling twin cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg to Naples’ mansion- and yacht-lined canals, Sun City Center’s sprawling compound of modest retirement homes, and Sanibel Island’s shell-filled beaches,” the AP reported.
More than a quarter of Florida’s population was ordered to evacuate—about 6.4 million people. About 54,000 people were housed in 320 shelters across the state as of Saturday afternoon, according to the AP.
And Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, who has been criticized for ignoring warnings about the perils of climate change, particularly for Florida, already has activated 7,000 members of the state’s National Guard, while 30,000 more guardsmen are on standby.
“No resource or expense will be spared to protect families,” the governor said in his latest of several updates delivered throughout the day on Saturday.
Get ready, because here Irma comes.
Update 7:45 p.m.: Here’s a rather ominous tweet from Tampa’s airport: