The first Category 5 hurricane to hit the United States was the 1935 Labor Day hurricane (hurricanes were not named until 1950).  The Bahamas, Florida Keys, Florida Panhandle, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia were effected.  Four hundred and eight people died.  However, in 1900 the Great Galveston Hurricane (Cat. 4) hit the Texas coast resulting in the deadliest storm in U.S. history with between 6,000 to 12,000 fatalities.  In 1915 two Category 4 storms came in from the Gulf of Mexico. In Aug,  Galveston was hit again just 15 years after the Great Galveston Hurricane, and then in Sep, New Orleans was hit by the Great Storm of 1915.

The second Cat. 5 storm to hit the U.S. coast was Hurricane Camille, which devastated Louisiana and Mississippi.  Then in 1992, Hurricane Andrew, the last Cat. 5 storm to hit the U.S. demolished a wide part of Florida.

Now we have Irma. This is most powerful hurricane in the Atlantic, ever.  The storm has sustained winds of 180 miles per hour, with gusts over 200 miles per hour.  St. Martin has taken a direct hit, and buildings are being toppled and rivers over flowing.

Hurricane Irma, Cat. 5, at 6:30 PM, Sep 6, 2017.

The predicted path is for Irma to hit landfall in Miami, and then swing north along the Florida east coast, and onto the coast of Georgia and South Carolina. Already, mandatory evacuations have been made for most cities and towns in South Florida. State of emergency orders have been declared in Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

Irma is huge.  It’s twice as wide as the width of Florida.  On the heels of Hurricane Harvey, we are facing another major hurricane disaster.

Why?  Why are these extreme storms occurring, especially in the Atlantic. According to some scientists, Irma is “epic” in size and strength.  And its epic size may be related to climate change in the following way.  Hurricanes get their energy from the warmth of ocean water.  For decades, the Atlantic Ocean water temperatures have gone up–some say “super elevated.”  So according to scientists at the U.K.’s Met Office,

Higher than average sea-surface temperatures “are fueling Hurricane Irma, giving extra energy and moisture.

Although the research linking climate change with hurricanes (frequency) is tentative, there is factual data that the temperature of the Atlantic is higher, and higher temperatures means more energy. We now think that this temperature rise is probably related to making storms more destructive (higher wind speeds and larger size hurricanes).

This clearly shows the size of Irma in relationship to Cuba and S.E. United States.

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University