At the time of this writing, Hurricane Irma has killed dozens of people across the Caribbean and left more than half the state of Florida without power. Millions of Americans have been evacuated from their homes and many more may yet be displaced by the storm. What’s worse, Irma may soon be followed by yet another tempest, Hurricane Jose. Even if Hurricane Jose moves away from the American mainland and back out to sea, already the 2017 Hurricane Season seems sure to end up in the record books as one of the most destructive, costly seasons in years.
The Gulf Coast of Texas was ravaged by Hurricane Harvey mere days ago, and countless residents there will be dealing with its aftermath for weeks or months. Now Floridians face the same fate. As Irma is downgraded to a tropical storm and slowly moves north over the mainland of the United States, the worst of the damage may already be done in Florida and on the island nations farther south in the Caribbean Sea, but the recovery ahead will be long and trying. Here are fifteen images that will serve as a stark reminder of the awesome power of nature unbridled: these are pictures of Hurricane Irma, our latest international natural disaster.
15. Hurricane Irma Storm Surge
One of the deadliest forces brought by any hurricane is the storm surge, the great upwelling of the sea caused by wind and pressure changes. A large storm surge can send water hundreds of yards inland (or even miles in flat coastal areas) and cause horrible flooding. Here we see the Hurricane Irma storm surge battering the coast of Puerto Rico a few days back. Despite much of the American island territory being surrounded by a seawall, the immense surge caused by Irma washed right over much of this defensive barrier.
14. Trees Ripped Up by Hurricane Winds
If you have ever stuck your hand out the window of a car moving at 60 or 70 miles per hour, you know how much power air moving at that speed can generate. Now imagine wind gusts more than twice that speed. And if you have ever been hit in the head by a falling acorn or other small piece of debris, you know it hurts. Now imagine being hit by an entire tree. All over Florida and across the Caribbean thousands of trees have been uprooted and sent flying by the winds of Hurricane Irma. Anyone or anything nearby a flying tree is in a bad place, indeed.
13. Entire Neighborhoods Ravaged
This is an aerial image of a neighborhood on Puerto Rico. The homes have been damaged and some nearly destroyed by the winds, rain, and flooding caused by Hurricane Irma’s passage, and note that passage is the operative word: this level of damage occurred even though the storm did not travel directly over the area. More than a million Puerto Ricans were left without power and many were forced from their homes by the level of damage the storm inflicted on properties.
12. Displaced Residents Sheltered During Storm
With their homes either already damaged or at risk for damage or destruction from the coming storm, tens of thousands of Floridians who either could not or chose not to evacuate the state entirely have taken shelter in facilities set up around the state. This storm shelter is in Miami-Dade County in southern Florida, and is representative of many of the places people waited out the storm with their families, hoping they would still have a home to which to return one Irma had passed.
11. Hurricane Irma’s Widespread Flooding
Hurricane Irma has flooded many areas around Florida and will likely bring flooding to other states in the coming days, if only through rain and not through a coastal storm surge. The storm has already done more than its share of flood damage, however, as this picture of a street in the Cuban capital of Havana makes clear. Here we see Cubans wading through chest-deep waters in the search for higher, drier ground. Scenes like this one were also common in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and many other places that were affected by the storm.
10. Flying Through the Eye of Hurricane Irma
This picture might not look like much at first glance: just a propeller backed by thick clouds, right? Well, those thick clouds are the eye wall of Hurricane Irma, and this research plane flying directly through the center of the massive storm. The Hurricane Hunters aboard this WC-130J aircraft are surely bold, but they’re not crazy: flying through a hurricane is not as dangerous as it sounds, because the revolving wind direction is predictable and flight plans can be made accordingly. (Thunder storms, in which air rapidly rises up and down, are more dangerous.) Such flights are critical for gathering data that helps predict the path and power of the storm in question and for learning more about hurricanes in general.
9. People Shooting at Hurricane Irma
Over the weekend, many thousands of Americans showed that some stereotypes are sadly well deserved when they banded together in a commitment to shoot at Hurricane Irma. As in to use firearms and shoot at a storm, yes, you are understanding that correctly. One Facebook event in particular attracted tens of thousand of people who planned to “show Irma we shoot first.” Various law enforcement officials and scientists warned that not only was this a stupid and pointless idea (I’m paraphrasing, but not much) but also a dangerous one, as bullets always falls back down to earth, and in hurricane-force winds, they could even be sent back in the direction of the shooter.
8. The Other Victims of Hurricane Irma
Several dozen people have been killed by Hurricane Irma, either directly by the storm’s force or by factors exacerbated by its passage. But humans are not the only creatures impacted by such events. Countless animals have surely been killed by the storm, with innumerable more displaced by its damages. Manatees are particularly susceptible to the effects of such storms, being entirely helpless if left beached out of the water as this one was. Fortunately, this manatee was rescued by a group of caring humans who worked together to lug it back to deeper water where it could again fend for itself.
7. Cars Stranded by Hurricane Irma
When you are beset by a major hurricane, one place you do not want to be is inside an automobile. There is scant little time between the moment when floodwaters rise high enough to render driving impossible and when the water begins to inundate the car, turning it into a death trap instead of a safe haven. Hurricane Irma will damage or destroy millions of cars, but hopefully few people will perish while trying to ride out the storm in a vehicle. Here we see a rescuer checking a flooded car for anyone stuck inside.
6. Utter Devastation on Turks and Caicos
The archipelago of Turks and Caicos is made up of predominately low lying islands, the very type of landmass most susceptible to damage from a hurricane. Hurricane Irma did not spare this lightly populated British territory, ravaging neighborhoods across many of its islands. Here we see a street littered by everything from fallen trees to furniture washed out of homes to cars overturned by winds to entire sections of residences ripped apart and strewn across the land. This image is representative of countless other scenes of ruin caused by the storm.
5. The Arduous Evacuation Process
A few days go, as Hurricane Irma achieved the dubious distinction of being the largest and most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic (it has since shrunk dramatically, we’re glad to report), millions of Floridians did the smart thing and got the hell out of their homes, heading to northern areas of the state or even leaving Florida entirely. That process was hampered not only by the logistics of moving millions of people en masse, but also by a cripple fuel shortage largely brought on by the recent damage of Hurricane Harvey.
4. Satellite View of Hurricane Irma
Taking a look at Hurricane Irma as seen from dozens of miles above the earth’s surface can help to bring some perspective as to the sheer size of this unprecedented storm. For a time, the hurricane was approximately 800 miles across, meaning it was wider than the massive state of Texas and was capable of engulfing entire island nations at once. It was also many thousands of feet tall during much of its peak activity, likely stretching nearly from the surface of the ocean to the stratosphere, some 50,000 feet up.
3. Hundreds of Boats Sunk or Damaged by Irma
In the event of a hurricane, one place you definitely don’t want to be is aboard a boat, with the exception of a submarine that can get well below the surface of the sea. Here we see dozens of boats that have been damaged, destroyed, capsized, or outright sunk by the fury of Hurricane Irma. And these boats represent just a mere fraction of the vessels that were ruined or badly impacted by the massive tempest. Boat and ship damage will likely reach will into the billions of dollars in the wake of the storm, and that’s not to mention the destruction inflicted on piers, ports, docks, and more.
2. Cities Left Empty
A properly evacuated city is a strange looking thing. Here we see a stretch of highway near downtown Miami, Florida that would normally be crawling with traffic. On the day the image was captured, September 9th, 2017, we see but one lonely car making its way along the stretch of roadway. This is because millions of residents of southern Florida wisely heeded the advice of government officials and fled the area before the storm would hit a scant day or so following the moment this picture was taken.
1. Map Shows Sheer Size of Hurricane Irma
When at full force over this past weekend, for a time shortly before landfall Hurricane Irma was significantly wider than the entire state of Florida. Its winds and rains were actively lashing cities on the state’s eastern Atlantic coast even as the center of the storm itself was on the western Gulf Coast of Florida. As the downgraded storm creeps over the continental United States, it will bring rain down on millions of Americans simultaneously. The only silver lining is that the storm is moving, not lingering in one spot and causing utter inundation as did Hurricane Harvey in Texas.
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