Over the past few days Hurricane Irma has generated a lot of chatter on social media and concerns among storm weary Houstonians who are still drying out from Harvey. Given the week we just had it is no surprise that many are suffering from storm anxiety, and the thought of another hurricane is absolutely sickening. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of inaccurate and downright fake information put out on the internet regarding Irma and I would like to set the record straight on this storm from the Houston perspective.
I will cut to the chase right off the bat – Irma is not a storm we in the Houston area need to be concerned about at the moment. I have seen fake maps put out on twitter made to look very similar to the official graphics used by the National Hurricane Center (which is a federal crime), showing Irma making a direct impact on Houston. The people doing that are nothing more than clickbait whores and trolls. They know an image like that will generate tons of attention and they care little for the emotions of those who cannot tell the information they are peddling is fake. Even if Irma was to impact our area of the country it would probably be at least 9-10 days away, hell the storm is still 5 days away from Florida. The National Hurricane Center only issues official forecast tracks out to 5 days as beyond that reliable hurricane forecasting can be extremely difficult, which is why the cone of uncertainty exists.
In Irma’s case almost every single computer model is showing relatively the same scenario. Irma approaches the Florida peninsula and makes a sharp turn to the north either right at Miami over the southeast corner of the peninsula or at the southwest corner of the peninsula.
Even if Irma shoots the gap between Cuba and Florida and makes it into the Gulf chances are it will get picked up and pulled north by an atmospheric trough (an area of low pressure higher up in the atmosphere) before it has a chance to make it towards the western Gulf of Mexico where we are. And for that we are very lucky. Generally by mid-September these troughs and their associated cool fronts begin moving through with enough frequency to block Atlantic-traversing storms from making it all the way to the Texas coast.
Despite it not being a huge concern for us Irma is still a very worrying storm in general. As of this writing Irma is a buzz-saw looking category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds at 185 mph and gusts that are surely over 200 mph. It is already the second strongest Atlantic hurricane on record as measured by wind speed – first place is held by Hurricane Allen in 1980 with winds of 190 mph. It is entirely possible that Irma could take that top spot in the coming hours or days. Unfortunately conditions out ahead of the storm look ripe for it to maintain its incredible strength. If the forecast for Irma does indeed verify comparisons will surely be drawn to Hurricane Andrew. I fear we are watching a storm that could be equally, if not more, devastating and historic than the storm we just experienced. As I said before, Irma does not appear to be a Texas problem and I for one am incredibly grateful for that.
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