Hurricane Irma, as the storm system is now known came into existence on the 30th of August 2017 off the coast of the Cape Verde Islands. Within 24 hours of hurricane Irma’s development, the storm was characterised as a Category 2 hurricane according to the Saffir-Simpson Scale. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale has a one to five rating system based on the hurricane’s sustained wind speeds. According to the National Hurricane Center, the scale is used to determine “potential property damage”. Hurricanes that are classified as a Category 3 or higher qualify as ‘major hurricanes’ because of their increased potential to cause major damage to property and significant loss of life. Within 24 hours of being classified as a Category 2 Hurricane, Irma was upgraded to a Category 3, making it a major hurricane – the second major hurricane to develop as part of the Atlantic hurricane season in 2017. Irma’s intensity fluctuated for the next couple of days, however by the 5th of September 2017; Irma became a Category 5 hurricane with a maximum wind speed of 185 miles per hour (approximately 295 km/h). A hurricane with a Category 5 classification is associated with ‘catastrophic damage’ especially to residential infrastructure and suburban and coastal vegetation. It also often results in mass power outages which have a propensity to last for weeks or more. Furthermore, it is a hurricane that poses the highest threat to human life.
Due to Hurricane Irma’s intensity and high wind speeds, it has now been regarded as one of the strongest tropical cyclones worldwide for 2017 so far. What distinguishes Irma from past hurricanes in the Atlantic, is that it has made seven landfalls since its development, and while it has been downgraded several times to a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, and is now considered a tropical storm or depression– it’s potential to continue to wreak havoc has yet to subside. Irma is also gearing up to be one of the most expensive storms in US history, with hurricane Katrina costing the US approximately 160 billion dollars after making landfall in New Orleans in 2005. Irma’s estimated economic losses now sit at around the 200 billion dollar mark; however, this will only be confirmed once the storm has subsided in its entirety. Irma’s mortality rate is still inexact and will remain so until the storm surges have passed and further recovery efforts are well underway. However, it has been reported that Irma is responsible for the deaths of at least 24 people as the storm hit a number of Caribbean islands in early September. Hurricane Harvey, which recently caused mass destruction and record-breaking flooding in Texas and Louisiana, was responsible for the deaths of at least 70 people.
Hurricane Irma is one of several ‘natural disasters’ in circulation worldwide, with Hurricane Jose; a Category 2 hurricane hot on its heels, hurricane season in the Atlantic is not over just yet. Mexico too, is reeling from the after-effects of a quake that registered at 8.2 on the Richter scale on the 7th of September 2017 that left 90 people in the town of Juchitan dead. Switzerland has also experienced two mudslides and rockslides in the past month, leaving 8 people missing, now assumed dead. While Irma may be the most publicised disaster currently, it’s certainly not alone.