Everything you need to know about Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Harvey caused unprecedented flooding and devastation in Texas and parts of Louisiana. Now, while the U.S. struggles with recovery, Hurricane Irma — a powerful Category 5 storm that has already made its first landfall in the northeast Caribbean — seems to have its sights set on Florida.


On Wednesday, WestJet, Air Canada and Air Transat announced that they were all sending planes to the Dominican Republic and Turks and Caicos to get travellers out of the path of Irma.


Irma from space

NASA has many eyes on Irma, particularly in space. 

Here, the space agency provides animation from NOAA’s GOES East satellite, which shows imagery from Sept. 3 to Sept. 6 ending at 8:15 ET.


STORM-IRMA/

Police patrol the area as Hurricane Irma slams across islands in the northern Caribbean on Wednesday in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Alvin Baez/Reuters)

At 1:47 a.m. ET Wednesday, the eye of Hurricane Irma passed directly over Barbuda, a small island in the northeastern Caribbean. Fierce winds and torrential rain pummelled the island. The hurricane was making its way towards Cuba and the Bahamas. 

“The price you may pay for not evacuating is your life or serious physical harm,” Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said.


Hurricane Irma path

The forecast of major hurricane Irma, which is expected to impact parts of Florida by Saturday. (National Hurricane Center)

On Tuesday, Irma reached Category 5 strength with winds topping 295 km/h. A National Hurricane Center warning described the storm “potentially catastrophic.”

Irma is the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history.


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A member of the Emergency Operations Committee (COE) monitors the trajectory of Hurricane Irma in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. (Ricardo Rojas/Reuters)

The strength of hurricanes is measured by the Saffir-Simpson wind scale, which ranges from Category 1 to Category 5 with winds of 252 km/h or higher. Why isn’t there a Category 6? 

“Because once you say catastrophic and there’s near complete damage, why do you need a 6?” Dennis Feltgen, a spokesperson for the National Hurricane Center told CBC News.


Hurricane Irma

The perfect combination of factors led to Irma becoming a Category 5 hurricane. (NASA/NOAA GOES Project via AP)

High sea-surface temperatures, minimal variation in wind speed and direction as well as moist air combined to create this mega-storm, said Ian Folkins, a researcher with the department of physics and atmospheric science at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Water evaporates from the surface and rises, leaving an area of lower pressure underneath. The surrounding air gets drawn in to take the place of the rising air, and certain wind conditions can cause that air to rotate.

“Paradoxically,” said Folkins, “what you need in the initial stages is weak winds.”

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