Hurricane Irma Like a ‘Lawnmower From the Sky’ Went Over Caribbean Islands

Hurricane Irma, a record Category 5 storm, is seen approaching Puerto Rico in this NASA GOES-16 satellite image taken at about 3:15 p.m. Eastern on September 6, 2017.
NOAA

Earlier this week, Brock Long, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, sent a surprise package to meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It contained enough water bottles and enough MREs (meals-ready-to-eat) to last 10 days.

“Being an ex-marine, I can tell you, those MREs will taste pretty good soon,” said Dennis Staley, the chief of operations for the National Centers for Environmental Prediction.

The meals will join a stash of other food—potato chips, coffee, chocolate—that meteorologists will rely on as they hunker down for days at the National Hurricane Center, which is in line to be slammed by the very storm they’re predicting. Over the last several days, some of the world’s top tropical meteorologists have assigned cats to close friends, made sure friends are evacuating, and put their families on planes.

Now, they will take shelter in the National Hurricane Center’s downtown headquarters, monitoring observations from across the Gulf of Mexico and issuing forecast advisories on the major storm. The center’s headquarters—a hardened concrete structure, with corrugated shutters for the doors and windows—was designed to withstand 185-mile-per-hour winds and a 15-foot storm surge.

Whether it will actually endure a storm of that size and violence isn’t clear. As of Friday morning, Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest hurricanes ever measured in the Atlantic Ocean, was predicted to tear through South Florida and up the center of the state. If forecasts hold, it could be the most ferocious storm seen in Florida since Hurricane Andrew cut east-to-west across its peninsula a quarter-century ago.

Though the storm was downgraded to Category 4 overnight, with maximum wind speeds of 155 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center warns that it remains extremely dangerous. The National Weather Service has issued a hurricane warning for nearly all of South Florida, from Jupiter Inlet to Bonita Beach. It has also announced a storm-surge warning for southern Florida and the Florida Keys, warning of “a danger of life-threatening inundation.”

“Irma has me sick to my stomach,” said Eric Blake, a scientist with the National Hurricane Center, on his personal Twitter account on Thursday evening. “This hurricane is as serious as any I have seen. No hype, just the hard facts. Take every lifesaving precaution you can.”

“I have little doubt Irma will go down as one of the most infamous in Atlantic hurricane history,” he added.

“Hurricane Irma is of epic proportion, perhaps bigger than we have ever seen. Be safe and get out of its way, if possible,” said President Donald Trump on Twitter Friday morning. He said that the federal government and the Coast Guard were ready to help victims.

As of Friday morning, Irma’s death toll stands at 19. The storm leaves a path of devastation across the Caribbean. On Thursday night, the storm made landfall on St. Martin, a tiny island of 74,000 people, popular with European tourists. Daniel Gibbs, the president of the French territory of the island of Saint Martin, estimated that 95 percent of his country had been obliterated.

“There are shipwrecks everywhere, destroyed houses everywhere, torn-off roofs everywhere,” he told Radio Caraïbes International, as translated by The New York Times. “It’s just unbelievable. It’s indescribable.”

Witnesses described similar scenes on the island’s Dutch half. “It’s like someone with a lawn mower from the sky has gone over the island,”said Marilou Rohan, a European tourist visiting Saint Maarten, part of the Netherlands.

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SOURCE: The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer