Record-Breaking Hurricane Irma Leaves Her Legacy

All eyes were on the Caribbean and Florida this past weekend as an imposing Category 5 Hurricane Irma advanced towards land. Just a day after making landfall in Florida, Irma has weakened to a tropical depression, but not before becoming a record-breaking hurricane in multiple ways. The still rising death toll and property destruction will be Irma’s true legacy, but we can also look at how this storm broke precedent, and hope that this wasn’t the beginning of “the new normal” for the Atlantic hurricane season.

Hurricane irma in Miami

How many records did Hurricane Irma break?

Meteorologists say that the US has literally never witnessed a storm like Irma in all the time we have been tracking hurricanes. Here are four records that Hurricane Irma broke in the past couple of weeks:

  1. Strongest Atlantic hurricane recorded outside the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.
  2. Maintained wind speeds of 185 mph or higher for longer than any other recorded hurricane: an incredible 37 hours. Keep in mind that, to be classified as a Category 5, a storm must have sustained winds of at least 156 mph, so Irma’s winds were catastrophically dangerous.
  3. Similarly, Irma spent longer as a Cat 5 than any other storm in recorded history: three days in total.
  4. Hurricane Irma led 5000 people to evacuate from the Bahamas, making for the island nation’s largest evacuation in history. It is possible that the storm also prompted the largest US evacuation, as well, but the numbers are still not clear.

Florida residents were lucky that the storm’s winds dropped from 185 mph down to 135 mph as it made landfall in the US. Still, the enormous size of Irma was another factor to contend with. Her tropical storm force winds (39–73 mph) covered an area of 70,000 square miles—bigger than the entire state of Florida, which has an area of 65,000 square miles.

Looking towards the future, perhaps the most ominous statistic about Hurricane Irma is how close on the heels of Hurricane Harvey she was. This was the first time in recorded history that the continental US was hit by two Cat 4 or stronger storms in the same year. It’s still early in the season, and tropical activity continues. We can only hope that we don’t see any more unprecedented storms like this in the future.

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