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Live-blogging Hurricane Irma

I’m the author of Storm of the Century: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, published by National Geographic Books, and the IPPY Award-winning For Sale-American Paradise: How Americans Were Sold An Impossible Dream In Florida. I’ve been writing about hurricanes and other topics for National Geographic since 2003. I’ll be updating this blog about Hurricane Irma at regular intervals during the next several days from my home in Wilmington, North Carolina. That’s not me in the above photo, it’s a screengrab of a man standing in front of a public webcam in Key West, Florida Saturday afternoon. As Irma makes its way from the Keys up the Florida peninsula, I’ll be posting updates from friends and other sources in or near the path of the storm in Florida and Georgia. Please check back often for the updates.

9 a.m. Wednesday 9-20-2017

This is the final entry in “Live-Blogging Hurricane Irma.” We’ll close it out with comments from three well-known meteorologists: The Weather Channel’s Bryan Norcross, author of My Hurricane Andrew Story, Phil Klotzbach from Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project, and Neal Martin Dorst of NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division in Miami. Finally, Florida Gulf Coast University student Brian Houck talks about his experience riding out the storm and describes some of its effects in Fort Myers, Florida.

The Weather Channel’s Norcross says criticism of the track forecasting for Hurricane Irma is misplaced: “There is a consensus opinion that Irma was originally forecast to go to Miami, but ended up going to Naples. That the forecast was somehow wrong. In fact, the forecast was as good as hurricane forecasts are ever likely to be. The issue is with how people interpret the forecast, and how viewing the models muddles understanding of the forecast message.

“Three or four days before landfall, the forecast should only have been interpreted as a serious threat to all of Florida. Any slicing and dicing beyond that was wishful thinking.

“Irma could have been much worse. Due to a slight slowing in the forward motion of the storm, dry air in the Gulf intersected with Irma south of the Keys, instead of north of Naples/Ft. Myers. As a result, Irma’s back end, the bottom of the donut of the eyewall, dried out, and that meant that Irma was only half a storm when it hit the Keys and Southwest Florida.

“The big effect of that was that there were no strong west winds, which would have caused the feared deadly and damaging storm surge on the southwest coast, not to mention a double dose on damaging wind taking down trees and power lines, instead of just the front side of the donut.

“People should review their actions and imagine what would have happened if Irma’s eyewall had been intact so strong winds had come from both directions.”

CSU’s Klotzbach also comments on the effects of dry air on Irma’s intensity and the difficulty of forecasting the rapid intensification of hurricanes.

Hurricane Irma was “one of the nastiest hurricanes we’ve seen,” Klotzbach said, and the length of time the storm maintained its fierce intensity was “really remarkable.”

Still, the storm could’ve been worse. The infusion of dry air at the last minute and its track across Cuba that weakened it before it turned toward the Florida Keys kept it from being much worse.

Klotzbach said Hurricane Irma “got chopped off in its backside,” and that affected the storm’s punch as it arrived in Florida.

Klotzbach said he’s curious about Irma’s pushing water away from the shoreline in several places as it passed. Social media showed video of the bare sea bottom in the Bahamas and Tampa Bay. Klotzbach said he wonders how many other powerful hurricanes have created this phenomenon that was so well-documented on social media during Hurricane Irma.

It has happened at least one time in the past. Witnesses who survived the very powerful Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys said that storm pushed the water away from Lower Matecumbe Key and Long Key as the eye approached those islands.

Klotzbach said he thought Irma raised more questions about the mystery of rapid intensification of hurricanes. Irma intensified from a Category 2 hurricane with peak winds of 106 mph on September 4 to a Category 5 storm on September 5 with maximum winds of 160 mph. “It’s still a big question, what triggered it to just go,” Klotzbach said. “Sometimes they look like they’re going to go, and they don’t.”

The monster hurricanes of the 2017 season—Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Jose and Hurricane Maria—are likely to greatly increase attendance at the 2018 National Hurricane Conference next March in Orlando, Florida. After the2005 hurricane season—the busiest on record—attendance at the 2006 conference increased to 4,000. Klotzbach said he expects a similar increase in the wake of the 2017 season.

NOAA’s Dorst notes that he’s a researcher and is not on the front lines of hurricane forecasting. “We usually study hurricanes for years before we draw conclusions,” he said with a wink. “I am not sure offhand what the response to Irma was versus messaging although it seems some people in the Keys did not understand the storm surge threat. They thought of Irma as a wind event and thought they could ride it out.”

Brian Houck, a senior at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, says classes are just now resuming at FGCU. He said he’s learned a lot and is proud of his community after watching people respond to Hurricane Irma.

Houck writes: “With a labored sigh of relief, central and southwestern Florida continues to rebuild after Hurricane Irma swept through the state with devastating force. It is a collective feeling that while things were bad, they could have been far worse.

“I sat, evacuated in Tampa, watching the storm turn north towards southwest Florida and as I watched it make landfall, thought I would not have a home or a school to go back to. When I returned from Tampa to Fort Myers briefly after the storm, I was relieved to see roofs on homes and people recovering, even if street lights were down and trees blocked numerous streets.

“My house in Fort Myers’s flood-prone San Carlos Park area only recently regained electric service. I’ve been staying with my parents in Tampa until my classes at Florida Gulf Coast University resume today.

“As a student at FGCU, I have been proud to call Fort Myers my home for four years. But I have never felt as much pride in my city as I do at this moment. I’ve seen power company workers toil from dusk until dawn. Hotels opened their doors as  shelters to first-time hurricane refugees. My friend, Martín Villacreses, an Ecuadoran not six months removed from being granted U.S. citizenship, was dishing out food at hurricane shelters just days before the storm while his family was still scrambling to prepare for the incoming disaster.

“My home in the San Carlos Park was projected to be rushed with 5 to 8 feet of storm surge, with 8 to 12 feet projected just 2 miles to our west. But the surge that was so bad in some other places did not affect my neighborhood. Still, my home until today saw temperatures peaking indoors at 90 degrees during the day–which explains why I fled north on I-75 back to Tampa for several days.

“Other students headed to Alico Arena on campus for temporary shelter, a facility best known for the school’s “Dunk City” men’s basketball team. The arena’s older portions suffered rain damage that required repair.

“Lines for gasoline eventually subsided and the water receded, but the stain of worry for what could’ve been will remain in the minds of Floridians across the state.

“Impending disaster has a way of connecting a community, and dealing with the damage done forms cohesive bonds into the future. Reflecting on the storm, I can say that I have full confidence in our state’s survival instinct against future natural foes and our ability to unite in the face of catastrophe.”

This blog was compiled with the help of many people since September 9. I’d like to say a special thanks to The Weather Channel’s Bryan Norcross, Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project, Jeff Houck in Tampa, Deanne Schulz in Orlando, Andrea Jackson of WOFL-TV in Orlando, Carol Tedesco in Key West, and Dan Baker in LaGrange, Georgia.

Noon Sunday 9-17-2017

The Associated Press reports that the Florida Keys have reopened to tourists, but officials are warning visitors that things are different than before Hurricane Irma.

4:20 p.m. Saturday

Carol Tedesco sends pictures from Bay Point, Florida, near where Hurricane Irma’s eye came ashore in the Florida Keys one week ago.

Tony Gregory and Christine Scarsella open the hurricane shutters of the home of a friend in Bay Point, Florida who evacuated ahead of Hurricane Irma. They were there to remove spoiled food from the refrigerator and rescue their friend’s orchids. Photo by Carol Tedesco.

 

A roof pulled from a house by Hurricane Irma lies across a utility line in Bay Point, Florida in the Florida Keys. The hurricane’s eye came ashore there September 10. Photo by Carol Tedesco.

 

A mobile home in Bay Point, Florida was reduced to tangled wreckage when Hurricane Irma’s eye came ashore on September 10. The building housing Baby’s Coffee Company withstood the storm’s 130 mph winds. Photo by Carol Tedesco.

 

Bay Point, Florida resident Greg Black stands in front of his home in the Florida Keys where Hurricane Irma’s eye came ashore September 10. Black thinks a tornado passed over his house during the landfall. Photo by Carol Tedesco.

 

11:15 a.m. Saturday 9-16-17

Carol Tedesco sends more photos of the Hurricane Irma recovery in Key West.

B.O.’s Fish Wagon has been a fixture in Key West for 40 years. The restaurant has been giving away meals to Key West residents since shortly after Hurricane Irma left town. Photo by Carol Tedesco

 

Buddy Owen, wearing a blue T-shirt, is the owner of B.O.’s Fish Wagon. Behind him is John Gallagher, a Key West resident who retired there from the Fire Department of New York. Holly Owen has a plate of food . Photo by Carol Tedesco.

 

6 p.m. Friday

Palm Beach Post reporter Eliot Kleinberg is the author of Black Cloud, among many other books. Black Cloud focuses on the terrible hurricane that came ashore at West Palm Beach in September 1928 and became known to history as the Great Okeechobee Hurricane. The storm destroyed flimsy dikes holding back Lake Okeechobee and sent a flood racing down on thousands of helpless people. As many as 3,500 people may have been killed, most of them African American and Caribbean migrant workers. Kleinberg has a few thoughts comparing Hurricane Irma to that awful tragedy 90 years ago.

“Hurricane Irma drove home the adage forecasters have pressed for decades: Don’t follow the skinny line!

“On paper, Irma missed Palm Beach County by about 100 miles. That’s what historians will say years from now when they look at the official tracks. But outer bands on the other side of the state brought sustained winds near, or possibly at, hurricane force, and gusts at or possibly near 100 mph to areas from Boca Raton to Jupiter and out to Lake Okeechobee. And power went out from one end of the peninsula to the other and remained out on Friday as far north as Orlando. All for a storm that officially struck the lower west coast.

“While technology in 1928 was far more primitive, the misjudging of that storm’s breadth also ended up being a deadly folly. The storm did extensive damage along the coast. But 1920s communications meant it would be days before people realized that what had been a really bad storm in West Palm Beach had been a cataclysmic killing machine in the interior.”

2:15 p.m. Friday

Marathon resident Jeff Pinkus reports that power is back on in some sections of that city, but says it may be a week before power is back on in other sections. Marathon–about 45 miles east of Key West–is the second-largest city in the Florida Keys, with about 9,000 residents. Houses in Marathon on Florida Bay fared much better during Irma than houses on the Atlantic Ocean side. Most of those houses had about four feet of flooding. Pinkus says fuel in Marathon is hard to come by because power is off and buyers must use cash only to pay for fuel. Fuel and ice are available but limited, he says.

Hurricane Irma tossed boats around and washed this one onto a seawall in Boot Key Harbor in Marathon, Florida. Photo by Jeff Pinkus.

Noon Friday

Florida Governor Rick Scott, second from right, held a press conference in Key West, Florida this morning to discuss the city’s recovery from Hurricane Irma. At Scott’s left is Colonel Jason Kirk, commander of the Jacksonville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. At the governor’s right is Major General Michael Calhoun, Adjutant General of the Florida National Guard. To Calhoun’s right is Key West City Manager Jim Scholl. Photo by Carol Tedesco.

 

9:15 a.m. Friday, 9-15-2017

 

More photos of Key West getting back on its feet after Hurricane Irma  from Carol Tedesco.

In this September 13, 2017 photo, an enormous Banyan tree is seen uprooted by Hurricane Irma, crushing the roof at 618 William Street. The house is one of two houses on William Street that were owned by the late writer and poet Shel Silverstein, author of “The Giving Tree” and other classics. Photo by Carol Tedesco

 

Key West is known for chickens that roam the city’s streets. Here, a man tosses chickenfeed to a hungry bird after Hurricane Irma hit the city September 10. Photo by Carol Tedesco

 

Juan Cabalo, left, and Seth Severa pour water for guests at Azur Restaurant in Key West, Florida, where the proprietors opened their doors for hungry residents after Hurricane Irma struck the city on September 10. Photo by Carol Tedesco.

 

In this September 13, 2017 photo, Hemingway Rum Company manager Shawn Martin, standing, and co-workers Preston Brewer and Noel Calzolano, left, and John Moore, right, fill a container with water for a Key West resident that did not evacuate for Hurricane Irma. The rum company team put 800 gallons of water in giant tanks in advance of the storm and are dispensing to those in need from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. daily until the supply runs out. Photo by Carol Tedesco

 

10:30 p.m. Thursday

Carol Tedesco in Key West sends photos of the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma, and a vivid description of Hurricane Irma’s approach. She and a friend went to a pier at sunset the evening before the storm. She says it was a “surreal sight, all of the sea life coming near the shore. A group of tarpon was leaping and jumping in the water. The sea was very alive with creatures, and there was an unusually bright sunset. It was beautiful and eerie at the same time.”

Bill Becker of US 1 Radio–officially known as WWUS–in the Keys has been broadcasting around the clock to help with the hurricane recovery, Carol says. The station normally can be picked up on the Internet, that service is down and the station is limited to its tower. Still, Becker has been in the saddle nonstop since Hurricane Irma plowed through the Keys.

Carol says conditions in Key West are probably a little better than they are 30 or so miles up U.S. 1, where the eye of Irma came ashore. Still, Key West is without clean water. Police and emergency responders also are working around the clock, and are being very patient and helpful despite the stressful situation.

Carol says she hasn’t seen mattresses and damaged furniture piled outside houses in Key West like she did after Hurricane Wilma in 2005. She suspects this is because Wilma sent a huge storm surge through the city, and Irma’s storm surge did not affect the city as much. Almost all of the damage from Irma was from the winds, she says.

U.S. 1–the only route into the Keys, remains closed, Carol says. Her photos of Key West immediately after Irma passed are below.

 

Key West is well known for being an unconventional city. But when Hurricane Irma’s winds finally died down, residents let the world know that their town had weathered a blow with its pride intact. Photo by Carol Tedesco

 

Key West took a punishing blow from Hurricane Irma, but after the storm had passed, there were smiles and relief. Photo by Carol Tedesco

 

Some Key West residents regained their equilibrium after Hurricane Irma by spending quiet time with a good friend. Photo by Carol Tedesco

 

It’s been a stressful time for Key West residents who rode out Hurricane Irma and are dealing with its aftermath. Some caught a few moments of rest wherever they could. Photo by Carol Tedesco

 

Some Key West residents who rode out Hurricane Irma took the precaution of wrapping personal possessions in heavy plastic. Photo by Carol Tedesco

 

SUV on a Key West street damaged by a fallen tree. Photo by Carol Tedesco

 

Trees are down all over Key West, including this one in the city’s Old Town section. Photo by Carol Tedesco.

 

Carol Tedesco’s garden in Key West got the worst of its encounter with Hurricane Irma, except for this angel garden ornament that rode out the storm unharmed in a large clay pot. Photo by Carol Tedesco

 

Key West’s famous Southernmost Point marker will need a new paint job after being blasted by sea spray and high winds during Hurricane Irma on September 10. Photo by Carol Tedesco

5:30 p.m. Thursday

My old friend John Fisher sends these photos of a massive old oak tree that was toppled onto an SUV by Hurricane Irma in Jacksonville, Florida. All photos by John L. Fisher, used by permission.

8 a.m. Thursday 9-14-2017

The venerable Green Parrot bar, where Key Westers have been slaking their thirst since 1890, came through Hurricane Irma without serious damage and has reopened.

7 p.m. Wednesday

While millions of people were fervently hoping Hurricane Irma would stay as far away from them as possible on Sunday, September 10, storm chasers Michael Laca of TropMet in Miami and Greg Nordstrom, professor of meteorology at Mississippi State University, dashed to Naples hoping to ride out the eye of the storm. Their calculations of where the eye was most likely to pass were on the money, and they had a wild ride as Irma’s eye-wall brought winds of 130 mph to 140 mph and blinding rain past the parking deck where they were holed up. Laca’s photos below show the “before” and “during” phases of Irma’s approach. The top photo shows the view while they were awaiting the storm. The bottom photo shows Irma at full roar as the eye-wall is passing over them. During the eye’s passage, Laca recorded a low barometric pressure reading of 27.72 inches.

Photos by Michael Laca/TropMet

5:30 p.m. Wednesday

Details on how the famous six-toed cats at the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum in Key West safely rode out Hurricane Irma.

Noon Wednesday

CBS News has posted video of a chainsaw-wielding nun clearing trees taken down by Hurricane Irma near Miami. Sister Margaret Ann, principal of Archbishop Coleman Carroll High School, is dressed in full habit as she goes after trees blocking roads around the school. The video was shot by an off-duty police officer, posted on social media, and went viral, CBS says.

5 a.m. Wednesday 9-13-2017

The Chicago Tribune has a story about conditions in the Upper Keys. A FEMA official says 25 percent of the homes in the Florida Keys may have been destroyed and 65 percent suffered major damage.

5:15 p.m. Tuesday

Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach said Hurricane Irma’s formation was the result of “a combination of basically perfect ingredients” that include warm sea-surface temperatures, low wind shear, and plenty of warm, moist air.

“Obviously other factors are important too, but I typically find that that trifecta is good news for the storm and bad news for everyone in its wake!” he said.

Another unusual factor with Irma was its track. The system began as a tropical wave coming off the west coast of Africa August 30, just west of the Cape Verde Islands. When tropical systems form in that area, they usually turn to the north before reaching the U.S. coast. Klotzbach said Hurricane Irma was only the third hurricane on record to form in that area that made a U.S. landfall. The other two were the Sea Islands Hurricane of 1893 that killed hundreds of people on South Carolina’s Sea Islands, and Hurricane Ike, which devastated the Texas coast in 2008. A hurricane that forms in this region has about one chance in 20 of making a U.S. landfall, Klotzbach said.

A very strong high-pressure system kept Irma from turning northward during most of its trek. “The reason Irma hit the United States was the very strong subtropical high that pushed it on a westerly and even southwesterly trajectory for most of its lifetime,” Klotzbach said. “By the time it encountered a weakness in the ridge, it was too far west and slammed into Florida.”

4:15 p.m. Tuesday

Milledgeville, Georgia–about 30 miles northeast of Macon–has trees down and damage to some of its historic buildings.

10:20 a.m. Tuesday

NBC online has a Hurricane Irma wrap-up that summarizes the storm’s devastation from the Cape Verde Islands to Florida.

In Macon, Georgia, John Baker describes the scene in one neighborhood there: “Across the (Ocmulgee) river it is like a maze getting out of Shirley Hills. Trees down on top of houses and blocking the streets. Power, telephone and cable wires lying in the road. We talked with an ambulance crew that was trying to get to Oakcliff Road but Nottingham, Briarcliff and Jackson Spring Roads are all blocked by huge tree falls. But on the other hand downtown is business as usual, go figure.”

7:45 a.m. Tuesday

Irma’s cloud cover is now a giant apostrophe stretching from Pennsylvania southward to North Carolina and westward to as far as Kansas and Oklahoma. Here in Wilmington, North Carolina, a steady rain is falling that is expected to continue through the day. Image from NASA.

7:30 p.m. Tuesday

The remnants of Hurricane Irma–which is now a tropical depression–are over northeastern Alabama and will move northwestward today. The center of the disturbance is expected to be in the lower Midwest by Wednesday morning. Weather Underground is reporting record flooding in Jacksonville, Florida, where the St. John’s River rose to its highest level since 1846. Irma’s storm surge continued up the Atlantic Coast to Fernandina Beach, Florida; Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. Graphic above from Weather Underground.

6:30 a.m. Tuesday, 9-12-2017

The New York Times reports that the famous six-toed cats living at author Ernest Hemingway’s former home in Key West, Florida made it through Hurricane Irma unharmed. Staff members at the house–now a museum and Key West landmark–rounded up the cats and brought them inside before the worst of the storm arrived at Key West Sunday morning. The author’s house is on Whitehead Street about five blocks from the Atlantic Ocean and the famous Southernmost Point marker.

Yvette Hammett, a former colleague during my newspaper reporting days in Florida, has posted a message on Facebook from Publix grocery stores asking shoppers who bought large quantities of water in advance of Hurricane Irma to donate any unused water to the Red Cross instead of returning it for a refund. The statement says Publix cannot resell the water because it’s considered a food item and can’t be resold.

The South Florida Water Management District–a regional state government agency that manages water resources in southern Florida and maintains flood control infrastructure–reports that Hurricane Irma dumped an average of seven inches of rainfall on its district on Saturday and Sunday. Some places received as much as 19 inches, SFWMD reported. The areas most affected were the Big Cypress Basin in Collier County (where Irma’s eye came ashore after crossing the Florida Keys), Miami-Dade County and the Clewiston area south of Lake Okeechobee. District officials say all of their water management structures “were operating and moving water as designed.”

Damage and scattered power outages are reported in Macon, Georgia. Some main streets are closed because of downed trees and utility poles.

9:15 p.m. Monday

Dan Baker in LaGrange, Georgia says his city had five inches of rain from Irma as of 9 a.m. this morning. High winds earlier today in parts of Macon, about 90 miles east of LaGrange, where power has been out since 10 a.m. Hurricanes always do strange things. Irma blew catfish from Lake Harding–a large lake that straddles the Georgia-Alabama line–into the yards of residents living near the lake. Dan sent along the photo below. 

7:50 p.m. Monday

From the National Weather Service 5 p.m. update: At 500 PM EDT (2100 UTC), the center of Tropical Storm Irma was located near latitude 31.5 North, longitude 84.0 West. Irma is moving toward the north-northwest near 17 mph (28 km/h), and a turn toward the northwest is expected by Tuesday morning. On the forecast track, the center of Irma will continue to move over southwestern Georgia tonight and move into Alabama on Tuesday.

Maximum sustained winds have decreased to near 50 mph (85 km/h) with higher gusts. Continued weakening is forecast, and Irma is likely to become a tropical depression on Tuesday. Tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 415 miles (665 km) from the center. The estimated minimum central pressure is 985 mb (29.09 inches).

The Tampa Bay Rays American League baseball game against the New York Yankees, scheduled for the Rays’ home stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida, has been moved the Citi Field in Queens, New York, home of the New York Mets of the National League. Although the Rays are playing almost 1,200 miles from their home park, they are the “home” team in this game.

7:35 p.m. Monday

From Dan Baker in LaGrange, Georgia: “Several more reports of trees and limbs down, resulting in power outages. One limb went through a roof, no report of injuries. Still just rain here, no strong winds have been reported as close as Newnan, about 30 miles to the northeast. TV reports lots of damage in Macon and Atlanta areas. 4.25 inches of rain as of 6:30 p.m. Winds are dying down.”
5:45 p.m. Monday

Weather Channel meteorologist Bryan Norcross, author of My Hurricane Andrew Story, has posted these comments about Hurricane Irma. He notes that as bad as Irma was, it could have been much worse. And he reminds us to not be a post-storm victim. He says:

“The HURRICANE IRMA threat continues for North Florida and the Southeast, but elsewhere a careful cleanup can begin.  The main message is, don’t be a post-storm victim.  After every big storm, people lose their lives because stop lights are out, or they over-exert themselves trying to clean up.  And, of course, people get impatient to get back home, and that won’t be possible right away for many people.

“On balance, we were lucky – not that hundreds of thousands of people across Florida don’t have losses and personal tragedies that they are dealing with.

“Mother Nature did us a few favors.  Irma ran into the northern coast of Cuba – horrible for the Cubans, there was significant damage and flooding there, but good for us because it disrupted the storm to some extent.  Secondly, the track farther south than we thought it might travel delayed Irma’s arrival in the Florida Keys.  That timing difference was key to what happened.

“It was always expected that an upper-level low pressure system would contribute to the weakening of Irma as it was moving up the state.  The thinking was, the low would bring unfavorable upper winds across the storm (creating wind “shear”) and at the same time pump dry air into the circulation.  That was why, even with a worse-case track just off the west coast over the Gulf, Irma was forecast to be weaker when it came by Tampa than when it was near Southwest Florida.

“Well, all of that happened, but because Irma tracked farther south near Cuba, and took longer to get to the Keys, the low-pressure system started impinging on Irma circulation before it got to Florida.  That meant that the version of Irma that slammed the Keys and Southwest Florida yesterday was not as formidable as it likely would have been if it had moved more deliberately to the north.

“The intrusion of dry air into the circulation sucked the moisture out of the back half of the storm.  That’s why the eye looked like a crescent moon, not a donut when it was hitting Florida.  This had two important effects:  One, people in the Keys and on the west coast only had to deal with one raging half of the storm.  The back half was relatively minor.  The other important effect had to do with the potential storm surge on the vulnerable southwest coast.  With a dried out back end, there were no strong winds to slam the Gulf water back against the coast after Irma’s front end pushed it out.  As a result, the storm-surge effects were relatively minor.

“Also, the slight jog to the east, just before the center came ashore near Marco Island on the west coast, brought the center inland helping the weakening process and further limiting the storm-surge effect from Naples through Tampa Bay.

“In the Keys, there was tremendous damage from the surge caused by the front part of the storm pushing the Atlantic water over the islands.  But that was the worst of it.  If the back end of the storm had not dried out, they would have gotten two rounds of hellacious winds.

“In Miami and on the southeast coast, the relentless wind off the ocean rotating into the giant circulation brought winds gusting over 100 mph and ocean water surging into Biscayne Bay.  Damage in the bay and along the waterways is extensive from the rising water.

“Irma demonstrated the very difficult challenge we have communicating forecasts for potentially devastating events like Irma.  The storm tracked well within the cone, and well within the errors intrinsic in forecasting where small weather features – like the eye of a hurricane – are going to go.  When the possible tracks are near a coastline, like in this case, the variety of possible outcomes that would result from a slight variation in the timing or exact track of the eye range from worst case devastation to damaging but survivable.

“When the National Hurricane Center is alerting people in harm’s way, the only reasonable course is to be sure people know what will happen if the storm takes the worst-case track within the known unforecastable range of possibilities.  It’s common sense.

“As inconvenient as it is, when a giant storm presents a life-threatening risk to vulnerable coastal sections, people will always be warned about the worst reasonable case and an evacuation trauma will be required.  It’s everybody’s responsibility to make that as efficient and painless as possible.  It’s part of living along the coast.

“The bottom line:  A big hurricane was forecast to come to Florida, and it came.  There are lessons galore from this experience that we hope will help everybody – residents and government officials alike – better understand how to respond for the next hurricane.  Remember, the second half of the hurricane season is still to come.”

Bryan Norcross became a South Florida legend during his marathon broadcast on WTVJ-TV in Miami during Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

5:30 p.m. Monday

Dan Baker in Georgia checks in. Nothing too bad in LaGrange so far, but Atlanta and Macon may not be faring as well. Dan says: “Several more reports of trees and limbs down, resulting in power outages. One limb went through a roof, no report of injuries. Still just rain here, no strong winds are have been reported as close as Newnan, about 30 miles to the northeast. TV reports lots of damage in Macon and Atlanta areas.”

4:45 p.m. Monday

A link to Hurricane Irma coverage by the Palm Beach Post. An assessment of the damage in the Keys from the Florida Keys News.

4:30 p.m. Monday

Irma is in Georgia. In LaGrange, Dan Baker says Irma’s presence has been noticed, but not too harsh. He says: “I took a nap and went to the computer, only to find water dripping on the mouse. I went to the attic and found several more leaks, none severe but all needing attention. So far, we’ve had mostly rain–about 3.25 inches. Winds occasionally gusty, a few limbs down, one disrupting power near town briefly, but I’ve heard nothing major. I’ll monitor FB and see if anyone has posted about damage. Meanwhile, back to the attic.”

1:45 p.m. Monday

NASA has released a time-lapse video of Hurricane Irma‘s trek from the deep Atlantic, across the Caribbean to Florida.

1:30 p.m. Monday

Conditions in the Florida Keys apparently are very bad. A Facebook friend who evacuated from Key West ahead of Hurricane Irma says city officials say the island chain is “closed.” She cites Key West City Council members and the city manager, who made the following statement late Sunday afternoon:

  1. The Keys are closed. Roads are in various stages of impassability. Bridges, while possibly okay, will need to be inspected by DOT before they are opened to residents. And there has been a lot of damage done to structures and local infrastructure by both wind and water. There is a substantial amount of marine debris from wrecked boats and docks in canals and local waters preventing access by water.
  2. There is no power. There is no cell phone or internet services. Water may not be available. Communications and utilities are down.
  3. There are only a few first-responders in the Keys, and they are stressed to the max with rescue and recovery efforts and the prioritizing of opening roads and the Marathon Airport.

The officials stress that evacuees should not come back to the Keys until it has been declared safe to do so. “City and county officials need to get the airport open to bring in needed supplies for those who are there and to evacuate those who need medical attention. Our first responders and essential personnel do not need any additional burdens as they try to do their jobs,” the officials said.

CNN and other news sources are reporting more than 6 million people without power in Florida.

12:27 p.m. Monday

From Dan Baker in LaGrange, Georgia: Wind picking up a bit at noon, rain still steady. I heard that 40,000 customers were without power in middle Georgia, about 100 miles east of here. Still have electricity in LaGrange, along with mail service. Post offices south of us — Macon, Columbus and others served by the Macon district — are shut down, so no mail delivery. Worst of the storm is expected here about 2 p.m.”

Noon Monday, 9-11-2017

Southwest Georgia residents have been getting ready for their tangle with Irma for several days, and the storm’s center is crossing the Florida-Georgia line this afternoon. This Wal-Mart at LaGrange, Georgia was cleaned out of fruit yesterday, and residents report that some grocery store bakeries are making extra bread in anticipation of a big demand. The residents also doing a lot of cooking in anticipation of losing electricity, and figuring out where to park cars to protect them from falling tree limbs. Generators are selling briskly at the big box building supply stores. Dan Baker, a retired newspaper editor and my former colleague at the Macon Telegraph, will keep us updated on Irma’s march through Georgia. Photo above by Dan Baker.

11:10 a.m. Monday

From the National Weather Service–As of 11 a.m. today, Tropical Storm Irma was about 30 miles north-northeast of Cedar Key, Florida in the state’s Big Bend region. Irma has weakened to a tropical storm as it is moving over northwestern Florida. The main concern today is heavy rainfall and flash flooding across the Southeast. Northern Florida could get another three to six inches of rain, and the same amount is forecast for much of Georgia and South Carolina. About one to three inches of rain is expected across central and eastern Alabama, southeastern Tennessee, and southwestern North Carolina. There probably will be some flash-flooding where rainfall is the heaviest.

Although Irma is technically a tropical storm and no longer a hurricane, its sustained winds are still blowing at about 70 mph, making it just under hurricane strength of 74 mph. It still will bring down trees and power lines and cause damage along its path. The storm is expected to continue weakening through today and tomorrow.

9:45 a.m. Monday

Irma’s next destination is Georgia, where south Georgia residents have been keeping a wary eye on weather reports for the past few days. They remember what Hurricane Opel did to their area in 1995 after it moved inland from the Florida Panhandle. Dan Baker, my former colleague at the Macon Telegraph who’s now living in LaGrange (southwest of Atlanta, near the Georgia-Alabama border), sends this update: “Rain started here during the night. About three-quarters of an inch as of 9 a.m. Traffic light, many things closed — local government except non-essential services, schools, LaGrange College, library, many businesses and manufacturing facilities. The wind is mostly quiet so far, but if it picks up I’ll be headed to the library to take down the message on the portable sign to keep from having the letters blown about.”

9:35 a.m. Monday

Hurricane Irma was weakened when it made its way through the Tampa Bay area last night, but it still brought down trees and damaged buildings, such as the photo below, made on Wesley Chapel Road by Jeff Houck. He adds: “The next bit of fun: Rivers are about to flood. The Alafia is going to be 3 feet above record level. Little Manatee and Hillsborough rivers will either be at record or above.”

 

7:55 a.m. Monday

Hurricane Irma has weakened as it moves northwestward, hugging the west coast of Florida. As of 5 a.m. today, its peak winds were down to 75 mph, and its barometric pressure had climbed to 28.49 inches. Bob Henson of Weather Underground notes that the storm will be moving into an area of high wind shear, which will cause more disruption.

Still, it’s  not likely that Irma is finished inflicting damage to the Southeast. The storm’s center is expected to move into Georgia early this afternoon, cross southwest Georgia, and be in Alabama early Tuesday morning. By this time, its top winds may have diminished to less than hurricane force, but it still will be capable of inflicting damage and heavy rain. I’ll be posting more about Irma’s northward trek later in the day. The graphic above is from Weather Underground.

12:24 a.m. Monday, 9-11-2017

From Jeff Houck in Tampa: “The eye is passing us just 10 miles to our east. Again, the path is defying predictions. The eye clearly is wobbling. We’ve somehow dodged both the western and eastern path predictions. Haines City, the phosphate town of Mulberry and Lakeland, home of Pubix Grocery, are now experiencing the hell. We had fierce wind and rain, but nothing like what our fears anticipated. Pinellas County is getting gusts into the high 70s on the outer bands. But the surge never materialized the way it was expected in Tampa Bay. We had fierce wind and rain, but nothing like what our fears anticipated. Pinellas County is getting gusts into the high 70s on the outer bands. But the surge never materialized the way it was expected in Tampa Bay. Lakeland, 30 miles east of Tampa where many from Pinellas evacuated to, is now experiencing winds that some say sounds like screaming babies.”

10:43 p.m. Sunday

From Jeff Houck in Tampa: “So it’s now clear that Irma will be bypassing Tampa to go east through Polk and Citrus County, roughly 60 miles away from where all the models predicted it would go. The storm is huge, so there still are plenty of things to shake out of this piñata for everyone from the Gulf to the Atlantic, but Irma has defied any sort of precision forecasting. Just as Charley did. TV stations are stuck showing the same few shots of a beached manatee on an ebbed bay, a car that drove off a small bridge and various video clips from 6-plus hours ago of Marco Island and Naples getting whupped. But once again for what seems like the billionth time, Tampa and the ultra-vulnerable St. Petersburg appear to have avoided the inevitable. At least until the next storm.”

 8:30 p.m. Sunday

So maybe the winds’ impacts on the Tampa Bay area won’t be as bad as feared, but Irma is still likely to deal a punishing economic blow. For starters, winter tomatoes may be much more expensive. Here’s what Jeff Houck says about it: “Projected path once again takes it through Hillsborough County’s south shore.This is the county’s fastest growing residential area. Booming developments at every turn where once was mostly agricultural uses. The path also will take it through Manatee and Sarasota counties’ pastures, some of Florida’s most fertile land. Planting is due to begin within a few weeks. One wonders what the storm’s path, it’s rains, surge and runoff will do to the land for this year’s crop.

“I’ve been through pumpkin patches in Myakka that were wrecked after a few days of rain. I know family ranchers in that area who are looking at the barrel of an already terrible year. My friend Jim Strickland and his crew are caring for cattle on Strickland Ranch. He’s tucked between Tampa and Fort Myers 15 miles from the coast. They’re expecting catastrophic impact.
“Much of the country’s winter tomatoes come from this area. So does their cantaloupe. Potatoes are grown here. Strawberries, blueberries, you name it. All will need help getting their operations salvaged from this onslaught.”

7:41 p.m. Sunday

Hearing reports of heavy damage in Upper Keys, which were on the strong side of Irma. Trying to confirm.

From Jeff Houck in Tampa: “Radar on WFLA-TV is focusing on San Carlos Park, where my son lives at school. The eye is there now. Gusts to 70 mph. Nine+ inches of rain in a place that was a bathtub 12 days ago. It’s a place where students pool together to rent homes. When school was canceled, many just scrammed. I wonder how many left behind outdoor objects and furniture that are projectiles at this moment. So darkness is happening in the next few minutes, which makes the storm seem far more frightening. Winds are increasing. Trees are reduced to thrashing shadows. I remember reading accounts of families in Andrew collected in walk-in closets pushing mattresses against the door as the eye wall came roaring through Homestead. Irma’s wall isn’t due for another four hours in Tampa. It won’t be anywhere like Andrew in force, but it’s still like a monster under the bed at night. Far worse in your head than what the TV radar is showing.”

6:15 p.m. Sunday

Hurricane Irma’s weakening has lifted spirits in Tampa, but there’s still some very bad weather on the way. And it’s not a good idea to get cocky just because the dot in the forecast track changed from magenta to yellow. Jeff Houck says: “Closed my eyes this afternoon for a few minutes – barometric pressure giving me a headache. Woke up two hours later to a markedly different storm and a house full of happy family. Incongruous is that the wind has doubled in that time. Sheets of rain pass my window. Oak trees and crepe myrtles bending and bowing in the gusts. We started to empty a walk-in closet for shelter when it was a Cat 4 storm. By the time I awakened, there was no reason to continue. The rain has been non-stop for hours as nasty bands swirl through my neighborhood. The house across the street looks like it’s in a gas station car wash, the spray is so intense. Meanwhile, my son Brian keeps in touch by Snapchat with FGCU college friends in Fort Myers and Naples -a communications tool that could have been handy 25 years ago during Hurricane Andrew if cell towers had been strong enough.

“Fascinating to see the change in tone online with reports of the storm weakening. Proposed drinking games are now appearing. Shots of drones skirting Bayshore Boulevard to show portions of the bay with dry beds. News anchors posting selfies with meteorologists. Three hours ago, we were on the verge of cataclysm. Now the storm seems like a courage badge, despite the eye of it not having reached Tampa yet. Yeah, this was the real deal. Every second of it. And it isn’t over. This is when people get hurt, thinking it’s no big deal. Then they step on downed power lines or take flying debris to the head. As comedian Ron White says, “It’s not THAT the wind is blowing. It’s WHAT the wind is blowing.”

5:50 p.m. Sunday

Irma has weakened after passing over Naples, Florida and at the moment isn’t expected to re-strengthen. The storm is expected to be down to a Category 1 hurricane when it reaches Tampa early tomorrow morning. That’s the good news. The bad news is that early damage estimates are astronomical, and even a weakened hurricane will continue to inflict damage as it moves up the Florida coast. The center of the storm is expected to cross into Georgia tomorrow afternoon. The five-day forecast graphic below is from Weather Underground.

Heavy damage in the Keys is being reported in the Miami Herald. Hurricane Irma’s eye made landfall around daybreak at Cudjoe Key, about 20 miles east of Key West. CBS is reporting that Irma’s insured damage in Florida could exceed $100 billion.

 

5:20 p.m. Sunday

Miami Herald says that report of damage to Snake Creek Bridge in Florida Keys is false.

4:31 p.m. Sunday

Eye has reached Greg Nordstrom‘s position in Naples, Florida.

4:06 p.m. Sunday

120+ mph winds in Naples, see Greg Nordstrom‘s video feed.

3:54 p.m. Sunday

Eye of Irma approaching Naples. See Greg Nordstrom‘s video feed.

3:38 p.m. Sunday

Greg Nordstrom reporting 105 mph gusts in Naples.

3:13 p.m. Sunday

Eye of Irma nearing Naples. See Greg Nordstrom‘s twitter feed for video.

2:30 p.m. Sunday

1:40 p.m. Sunday

Miami Herald reporter David Ovalle reporting last night from Key West

1:15 p.m. Sunday

A very strange sight: Irma’s circulation has emptied Tampa Bay.

1:01 p.m. Sunday

Orlando reporter Andrea Jackson of WOFL-TV sends a photo of the surf and this update from near Daytona Beach: “Waves are choppy and building here as winds gust in the 30 mph range at New Smyrna Beach. Tropical sustained winds, storm surge and flooding are an overnight concern as all are expected to build in the next several hours. Light rain now as high tide rolls in along the Volusia County coastline.”

 

12:35 p.m. Sunday

From Jeff Houck in Tampa: “My neighbor, Patrick, is a retired Air Force colonel who used to fly giant fuel tankers over hostile territory during war time. He’s never been in a hurricane because during every one, he’s had to evacuate planes out of harm’s way. Years ago, I picked up a saying from Patrick: “Hope is not a plan.” The man could not be more precise. He retired in his 40s to spend time with his wife Autumn, and sons P.J., Nick and Charlie. If he ever takes risks, they are calculated to the minimum of harm. He stayed in Tampa despite having family in Orlando because 48 hours ago, the storm was headed there, not here. I had a shirt made in his honor. I thought today was an appropriate day to wear it.”

 

12:17 p.m. Sunday

Bryan Norcross at the Weather Channel has just posted this sobering assessment of what Florida will face in the coming 24 to 36 hours. Bryan gained international fame in 1992 for helping Miami and Dade County residents cope with Hurricane Andrew with his live broadcast during Andrew’s landfall. His message here has the tone of a commanding officer preparing his troops for battle.

Bryan says: “Hurricane Irma’s final assault on Florida is underway. If you’re in a part of the state where the storm causes inconvenience – power out and minor damage – consider yourself lucky. Never before has a single storm threatened so much of the State of Florida.

“The weather you are seeing on The Weather Channel in Miami is going to move up the state from coast to coast. Winds in the Miami area have gusted to 100 mph and it’s going to continue through the day. Higher gusts than we’ve seen are still likely in South Florida.

“Flooding rains are accompanying this storm, and will spread north in the state. And some tornadoes will be imbedded in the strongest squalls.

“There will be a strong tail to Irma as well. It will extend well to the east and south of the center of the storm. Even once the weather improves, very gusty squalls may come back on the east coast well after the storm goes by. So don’t think it’s over in southeast Florida and all along the east coast until at least tomorrow afternoon, and dangerous squalls will be possible after that.

“Storm surge will increasingly affect the entire east coast of Florida as well, and the water will increase on the Georgia and Carolina coasts as the storm moves north. Be well aware of your elevation and evacuation orders that have been issued for your area.

“On the west coast of Florida, the most important thing to understand is that the Gulf water will surge in and rise quickly WELL AFTER the strongest winds go by. You might think the storm is ending, but the deadliest part of the storm is still to come. After the surge comes in, it will only slowly go out because the wind will continue to come from the west.

“The damaging wind – especially falling trees and power lines – will cover the all of the State of Florida, except the far western panhandle. Be very conscious of your surroundings. In every storm like this, people lose their lives due to falling trees.

“Be smart. Stay in a safe spot.

“Here are KEY MESSAGES from the National Hurricane Center.

  1. Life-threatening wind and storm surge from Irma will continue in the Florida Keys and southwestern Florida today and spread into central and northwestern Florida tonight and Monday. Preparations in central and northwestern Florida should be rushed to completion.
  2. There is imminent danger of life-threatening storm surge flooding along much of the Florida west coast, including the Florida Keys, where a Storm Surge Warning is in effect. The threat of
    catastrophic storm surge flooding is highest along the southwest coast of Florida, where 10 to 15 feet of inundation above ground level is expected. This is a life-threatening situation.
  3. Irma will bring life-threatening wind impacts to much of Florida regardless of the exact track of the center. Wind hazards from Irma are also expected to spread northward through Georgia and into portions of Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
  4. Irma is expected to produce very heavy rain and inland flooding across much of Florida and many other parts of the southeast United States. Rainfall occurring very quickly, at 2 to 4 inches per hour, will lead to flash flooding and rapid rises on creeks, streams, and rivers. Significant river flooding is likely over the next five days in the Florida peninsula and southeast Georgia, where average rainfall of 8 to 15 inches and isolated 20 inch amounts are expected. Significant river flooding is also possible beginning Monday and Tuesday in much of eastern and central Georgia, western South Carolina, and western North Carolina, where average rainfall of 3 to 8 inches and isolated 12 inch amounts are expected. Mountainous parts of these states will be especially vulnerable to flash flooding. Farther west, Irma is expected to produce average amounts of 2 to 5 inches in parts of Alabama and Tennessee, where isolated higher amounts and local flooding may occur.”

Bryan’s new book, My Hurricane Andrew Story, tells his experience during Hurricane Andrew.

11:54 a.m.

Irma’s outer winds are starting to affect Coral Springs, Florida, about 20 miles north of Fort Lauderdale. Coral Springs resident Lisa Cimilluca says: “Curfew began in Broward County Saturday at 6 p.m. and continues through 10 a.m. Monday. Lots of heavy wind gusts and rain here with debris from trees scattered on lawns and in the roads. Many without power.”

11:40 a.m. Sunday

Georgia residents are wondering what’s in store for them in a few days when Irma is through with Florida. Dan Baker, a retired former editor for the Macon Telegraph, lives in LaGrange, a small town about 70 miles southwest of Atlanta. Dan says his neighbors are keeping a wary eye to the south, but no one’s panicking. Dan says: “I’ve not seen any preparations other than a few at my house — moving things off the deck, making plans to park the cars on the street instead of under an oak tree, etc. I was in Griffin on Friday morning waiting for an estate sale and Irma was the topic of conversation, but there was no panic or dread. Hurricane Opal (1995) hit LaGrange before I moved here, causing lots of downed trees and power outages. I guess the attitude I’ve sensed is watchful waiting. Schools are closed Monday and Tuesday here, along with the college, trivia is canceled Monday at a local restaurant, that sort of thing.”

11:25 a.m. Sunday

In Fishhawk, four-year-old Alannah McCafferty checks out her family’s “hurricane fort” in her home. Her parents have converted a windowless pantry into a safe space in preparation for Hurricane Irma’s arrival. If necessary, they will fit five people and three dogs into the space. Brendan McCafferty says it was an emotional decision whether to stay in their home or go to Orlando.

 

10:50 a.m. Sunday

They’ve lost power in Jacksonville, but Floridians are getting feisty about the approaching hurricane. Lisa Coppedge in Jacksonville has posted this on her Facebook page.

 

10:15 a.m. Sunday

Deanne Shulz checks in from Lake Mary, Florida, an Orlando suburb about 18 miles northeast of downtown. Among other things, she comments on the savvy habits of the locals when it comes to visiting Walt Disney World. She says: “Complete calm this morning! Light drizzle, but no wind here yet! About half of the people in our development have put plywood up over their windows. As you probably know, Disney (and the other theme parks) closed last night and they won’t re-open until Tuesday. All the locals were there because they knew lines would be short. We start curfew at 6 p.m. tonight!”

10 a.m. Sunday

Jeff Houck checks in with a dicey moment in Tampa and an observation about the habits of people under stress who are leaving their homes behind. He says: “First brown-out a few minutes ago. Only lasted a second. Felt like the apocalypse. Picked up the moms in Fishhawk (a Tampa suburb). Always fascinating to see what people flee with. My mom brought her dog and her dog’s bed. He hasn’t used the bed since she bought it years ago. ‘I don’t think Irma is the time to break in a new product,’ I said.”

9:45 a.m. Sunday

In 2006, I did a package of stories for Key West Magazine about how the city and the Florida Keys might be affected by a major Hurricane. The stories won a First Place Public Service Award (known as a Charley Award) from the Florida Magazine Association in 2007. The stories are still online here. The link takes you to the front of the magazine. The stories begin on page 30.

9:10 a.m. Sunday

A pictorial update from Jeff Houck in Tampa

8:45 a.m. Sunday

Jeff Houck sends this comforting prediction of what to expect in Tampa in the next couple of days:

Monday Midnight to 3 AM: This will probably be the worst three-hour period you can expect. Winds could be in excess of 100 mph from the east, south or west. Stay in your “panic room.” Do not go outside. 100 mph winds can apply a force of 50 pounds per square foot and even the calm of the eye can give way to hurricane conditions very quickly. Be very cautious if you need to move throughout your house. If you have a weather radio, listen for updates and track the storm location on a map. The eye of the storm will pass near, or perhaps over us at this time. It will be loud. If it suddenly goes quiet, do not go outside.

Monday 3 AM to 6 AM: Hurricane conditions should persist but will likely diminish during this time. Hurricane force winds in excess of 70 mph from the west and heavy rain should continue. It’s not over yet. Stay in your panic room.

Monday 6 AM to 9 AM: Hurricane conditions should give way to tropical storm conditions. Expect rain, but west wind should start to diminish from 70 mph down to 50 mph. It’s probably OK to leave your panic room, but stay inside.

Monday 9 AM to 12 Noon: Expect tropical storm conditions. Expect rain and 40 mph wind from the west. If you go outside be very mindful of trees, debris and downed power lines.

Monday Noon to 3 PM: Tropical storm conditions should begin to dissipate. Expect rain and wind gusts up to 40 mph from the west. Again, be very mindful of trees, debris and downed power lines.

Says Jeff: “So, it looks like we’ll all be close friends in the closet.”

8:24 a.m. Sunday

From Carol Tedesco in Key West: “I hear it’s surging now on Atlantic side.” She sends this photo below from The Studios of Key West on Eaton Street. Shown are architect Haven Burkee, Hans DeRuijter, and Michael Shields watching the storm.

 

8:05 a.m. Sunday

YouTube footage of Maho Beach, Saint Martin, Virgin Islands, showing beach before Hurricane Irma and during its approach there as a Category 5 hurricane on September 6. The landfall footage starts around 40 seconds into the video.

 

7:46 a.m. Sunday

Report from Duval Street in Key West as Hurricane Irma’s eyewall approaches:

 

7:04 a.m. Sunday

Jeff Houck in Tampa–who spent much of yesterday “cooking his feelings” in preparation for Hurricane Irma– sends this:

“Faint winds, only occasional drizzle so far. Woke up to see the forecast track changed further west. Now instead of it heading for my home, now it’s aimed at St. Pete Beach, where my great grandfather built a hotel and motel on Pass-a-Grill Beach in the 1940s. We’re closely watching Fort Myers, where my son Brian goes to school at Florida Gulf Coast. Last night, they were predicting 8 to 10 foot surge, including the house he rents east of U.S. 41 and almost extending to campus on the east side of I-75.

“He might not have a house to go back to. He lives in San Carlos Park, where USA Today last month wrote about for rainfall. That neighborhood is more than saturated less than 2 weeks later. It’s extremely blue collar and prime student off-campus rental housing, investment homes by homeowners.

“That’s the thing I think a lot of people miss about this storm. Florida lives longitudinally. Kids go to college north and south. Parents live elsewhere. Grandparents and relatives are sprinkled throughout the state. People have little concept that you can drive for 10 hours in the state and never leave it. It’s like the jugular. Clogging or cutting off I-75, I-95 or the Turnpike and the body of the state suffers.”

6:04 a.m. Sunday

Mississippi State University meteorology professor and storm chaser Greg Nordstrom at Naples, where Irma’s eye is expected later today, reports: “So far just squalls with on and off gusty winds. Maybe 30 mph? Nothing bad yet.”

5:53 a.m. Sunday 9-10-17

Hurricane Irma is only a couple of hours away from landfall, probably at or near Key West, Florida. As of 5 a.m., the center of the storm was about 40 miles south-southeast of Key West, moving at about 8 mph. John Cangialosi, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said Irma would begin the first of several landfalls later this morning. The storm’s eye likely will come ashore with peak winds of about 130 mph. From there, the storm will move along the west coast of the Florida peninsula and its eye is likely to touch land again somewhere between Naples and Tampa, retaining its Category 4 intensity for at least part of the trip. The eye could be over or near Tampa around 2 a.m. Monday. The storm could be weakened slightly by the time it reaches Tampa, but it is still likely to be a major hurricane with winds exceeding 110 mph. The storm will make a third landfall early Monday afternoon in Apalachee Bay in Florida’s Big Bend region, likely as a Category 1 hurricane with peak winds around the eye of 74 mph to 95 mph.

Screengrab of a video shot at Long Island in the Bahamas. The shallow waters have been swept away by Hurricane Irma’s circulation, revealing the strange sight of the bottom of the ocean. This happened at Lower Matecumbe Key, Florida during the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. When that hurricane’s eye had passed, the sea reclaimed its turf with a vengeance. Witnesses reported that the island trembled with the weight of the returning water.

11:45 p.m. Saturday

Key West and the Keys may finally be getting a break, although it may not appear so at first glance. The 11 p.m. update on Irma now predicts that it will not re-strengthen as much before it makes landfall in a few hours. Earlier forecasts predicted the storm would make landfall as a Category 4 storm with peak winds of at least 131 mph and possibly as high as 155 mph. The latest forecast is predicting a Category 3 hurricane, which means peak winds will be from 111 mph to 130 mph. Wind damage potential increases exponentially as the winds increase. A Category 3 hurricane does 50 times more damage than a Category 1 storm. But a Category 4 storm does 250 times more damage than a Category 1. So the difference in the damage potential between a Category 3 and a Category 4 hurricane can be significant. Below is a graph of hurricane damage sent to me by meteorologist Bryan Norcross.

I’m going to knock off to get a few hours sleep. I’ll be back at it around the time Irma comes ashore in the Keys.

11:15 p.m. Saturday

Jeff Houck reports on Tampa’s state as the city awaits a date with Irma: “It’s sort of like waiting for Mike Tyson to hit you. You know it’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of when.There’s a steady breeze. Neighbors are standing in clumps asking who got a generator and who didn’t. Most houses in my neighborhood are not boarded. Gas was pretty easily available in the suburbs.
    Jeff says the wait is nerve-wracking, but so is enduring the “fear mongering” by some TV weather reporters. He’s also wondering how Bayshore Drive and Davis Islands will fare when Irma gets to town. “They flood during regular rainstorms,” he says.
    We’ll be hearing more from Jeff as Irma approaches Tampa tomorrow afternoon.
9:56 p.m. Saturday

FEMA has started a Rumor Control Page to try to get a handle on some of the tales that are already flying around the Internet.

Supplies and troops were already being moved into place in advance of Hurricane Irma in Tampa earlier today. Screengrab from a video posted on Twitter by Tim Dorsey.

 

9:15 p.m. Saturday

Jeff Masters at Weather Underground says Irma’s eye seems likely to come ashore early Sunday morning somewhere between Key West and Islamorada, perhaps Marathon. The hurricane is expected to cross Florida Bay and bring a “catastrophic” storm surge from Fort Myers to Naples Sunday afternoon, Masters says. This track would put Key West on the weaker side of the storm, and it would mean that Marathon and Islamorada would see much stronger winds. Miami is likely to see peak winds of 60 mph to 80 mph, Masters says.

8:45 p.m. Saturday

Carol Tedesco in Key West says the power is going out there. She has moved to The Studios of Key West building, a landmark Art Deco building on Eaton Street built in 1951. Before the lights went out, she shot some photos of the reporters and family members she’s with.

 

8:03 p.m. Saturday

Dianne Holt Johnson and her husband are leaving their home at Sanibel, Florida. She sends this Facebook comment from the road about their departure: “We were very happy to put Sanibel in the rear-view mirror this morning. Even though there were no signs of the impending storm, not a drop of rain or the hint of a breeze, the air literally felt heavy in a way that’s unusual even for a humid area like south Florida. It was eerie, and we were glad to be going.”

7:37 p.m. Saturday

Carol Tedesco in Key West says she and her family are moving to a larger, safer building. Conditions aren’t bad there yet, she says, but fear is becoming a reality.

Storm chasers Greg Nordstrom, a professor of meterology at Mississippi State University, and Michael Laca of TropMet.com in Miami, have taken up observation positions in a parking deck in Naples, Florida.

7:30 p.m. Saturday

The National Hurricane Center estimates that Hurricane Irma’s peak winds are about 125 mph as it pulls away from the coast of Cuba. It has plenty of warm water in the Florida Straits to fuel it, so it’s likely to strengthen as it approaches the Florida Keys.

7 p.m. Saturday

Livestream of preparations at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World in Orlando.

 

6:25 p.m. Saturday

A screengrab from a webcam at the famous Southernmost Point in Key West, Florida as Hurricane Irma’s winds begin to affect the Florida Keys.

6:15  p.m. Saturday

NOAA’s 5 p.m. advisory says Hurricane Irma’s eye is slowly moving away from the coast of Cuba. Hurricane force winds are expected over Florida around daybreak tomorrow. Irma’s top winds as it pulled away from Cuba were 125 mph, making it a strong Category 3 hurricane. The storm is expected to gain strength as it crosses the Straits of Florida and may make landfall in the Florida Keys as a Category 4 hurricane, meaning that its peak winds will be 111 mph to 130 mph.

NOAA has dozens of weather buoys anchored along the U.S. coasts and the Great Lakes. These buoys, part of the National Data Buoy Center, provide a wealth of information. Most of them include regularly updated barometric pressure readings, water temperatures, and wind speeds, and some of them register peak wave heights.

The barometer has been around for several centuries, but it’s still one of the most reliable ways to gauge a hurricane’s intensity. When the weather is calm, a barometer will show a reading of just under 30.00 inches at sea level. The reading starts dropping when bad weather approaches.

The approach of an intense hurricane will cause a barometer to rapidly drop. At the moment, the buoy station at Key West is showing a barometric pressure reading of 29.39 inches, with steady winds of about 28 mph.

 

5:33 p.m., Saturday, 9-9-2017

Carol Tedesco in Key West reports that some friends trying to evacuate that city late last night had a terrible experience on the Seven Mile Bridge near Marathon. They encountered a waterspout and intense hail that cracked their car’s windshield. High winds on the bridge also made it very dangerous to cross. Another friend who left early this morning got across the bridge with no problems.

 

4:15 p.m., Saturday, 9-9-2017

Hurricane Irma’s eye is skirting the northern coast of Cuba, and the interaction with the land mass has dropped the storm to Category 3 status on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. This means the storm’s strongest winds are from 111 mph to 130 mph. Irma is expected to turn north, away from the coast of Cuba, around 8 p.m. and almost immediately strengthen to a Category 4 hurricane, which means its peak winds will be 131 mph to 155 mph. The storm’s eye is expected to come ashore at or near Key West, Florida around 8 a.m. Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane.

From there, the storm is expected to take at least 24 hours to move along Florida’s west coast, and it is not expected to weaken too much along the way. The current forecast predicts that Irma will still be a Category 3 hurricane at 8 a.m. Monday as it approaches Florida’s Big Bend region along Apalachee Bay.

This undoubtedly will be a devastating hurricane. I’ll be documenting this historic event with the help of people experiencing it first hand. Check back often for updates.

 

Comments

  1. Lorenzo Porras ( writer as Oliverio )
    Miami Florida 33126
    September 17, 3:57 pm

    Dear David . Very impress the report Hurricane Irma . I’m General Manager Housing at Apt. Hud .retired people . I’ve almost 440 hundred magazine National geographic in the Bldg. storage. Too i’m subcriber ” Muy Interesante” Magazine. and leave Florida by Irma at Alabama ,and always visit Nasa Space Center and looking the report National Geographic
    Again congratulaton for the report ” Live-blogging Hurricane Irma ”
    God blessing

  2. David Maxwell Braun
    September 9, 7:35 pm

    Writing your next big hurricane book in real time, Willie. Thanks for keeping us posted. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the people (and animals) that are being caught up in this huge storm.