Hurricane Irma has been upgraded to a Category 5 hurricane and the National Hurricane Center has described it as an “extremely dangerous” storm. Puerto Rico and islands in the Caribbean are in its direct path now, but the storm’s shifting path over the weekend has residents of Florida already making emergency plans. And the state has already declared a state of emergency.
Since Sunday, storm path projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have shown Irma moving further west than initially forecast. The most recent model shows the storm headed toward Cuba and possibly southern Florida this weekend.
It’s important to note that experts emphasize it’s too early to predict what sort of impact Irma will have on the United States, but the further west the storm goes, the more concerning it becomes not just to Florida, but to all of the Southeast.
That’s because it’s not a matter of if Irma will eventually turn north, but when. And the further west it is when it does so, the more notable the impact is likely to be.
“There is an increasing chance of seeing some impacts from Irma in the Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys later this week and this weekend,” said NOAA in its most recent update. “Otherwise it is still too early to determine what direct impacts Irma might have on the continental United States. However, everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place.”
Florida residents are already bracing themselves, with bottled water selling at a rapid pace. (Charleston, SC stores were also seeing a run on bottled water this weekend.)
More worrisome for some is Irma’s origin. The storm is a “Cape Verde hurricane,” having formed in the far eastern Atlantic and traveled across the ocean. Those hurricanes can be among the most destructive. Previous Cape Verde storms include Hurricane Hugo, which devastated Charleston in 1989 and Floyd, which impacted eastern North Carolina in 1999.
Both of those pale, at least in terms of dollar losses, to 2005’s Katrina, which cost $108 billion, and 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, a category five storm that carried a price tag of $26.5 billion. Hurricane Harvey might top them all, though. Damages for that storm are currently estimated at up to $180 billion.