From the Field

Hurricane Irma: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

Hurricane Irma hit Florida as a Category 4 storm the morning of Sept. 10, ripping off roofs, flooding coastal cities, and knocking out power to more than 6.8 million people. By Sept. 11, Irma weakened significantly to a tropical storm as it powered north toward Georgia and Alabama. At 11 p.m. later that day, it weakened further to a tropical depression, and by Sept. 13, it had dissipated over western Tennessee.

The storm and its aftermath has killed at least 38 in the Caribbean, 34 in Florida, three in Georgia, four in South Carolina, and one in North Carolina.

Most of Florida and Georgia are feeling the brunt of Tropical Storm Irma's 65-mph winds and torrential rains. (©2017 photo courtesy of NOAA)
Most of Florida and Georgia felt the brunt of Tropical Storm Irma’s 65-mph winds and torrential rains Sept. 11. (©2017 photo courtesy of NOAA)

FAQs: Here’s what you need to know about Hurricane Irma

How did Hurricane Irma develop?

Hurricane Irma began Aug. 30 near the Cape Verde Islands. It’s the ninth named storm and fourth hurricane of the 2017 storm season.

Irma developed from a tropical wave that developed off the West African coast two days earlier. It rapidly strengthened into a Category 2 storm within 24 hours. Irma’s intensity fluctuated in the days to follow and on Sept. 4 became a Category 4 hurricane.

A day later on Sept. 5, it grew to Category 5 strength. Irma wrought catastrophe in Barbuda and parts of the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti each experienced flooding and heavy damage in some areas, but the storm left much less destruction than expected after sweeping through Sept. 6 to 8.

Hurricane Irma downgraded to a Category 4 Friday, Sept. 8, maintaining sustained winds around 150 mph. The storm made landfall over mainland Florida early Sept. 10.

From there, Irma weakened significantly to a tropical storm Sept. 11 as it powered north toward Georgia and Alabama. At 11 p.m. later that day, it weakened further to a tropical depression, and by Sept. 13, it had dissipated over western Tennessee.

Hurricane Jose was on Irma’s tail, but has weakened to a Category 1 storm and is moving steadily north, creating tropical storm warnings along the coastlines of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

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When is hurricane season?

The Northern Atlantic hurricane season is June 1 to Nov. 30, but it sharply peaks from late August through September.

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What’s the difference between a tropical depression, tropical storm, hurricane, and major hurricane?

The difference between a tropical depression, tropical storm, hurricane, and major hurricane all has to do with wind speed:

  • Tropical depression: Wind speed less than 39 mph
  • Tropical storm: Wind speed between 39 mph and 73 mph
  • Hurricane: Wind speed between 74 mph and 110 mph
  • Major hurricane: Wind speed greater than 110 mph

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What is a hurricane category, and what do they mean?

A hurricane category, determined by the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale, lets people know how dangerous the hurricane will be:

  • Category 1: Very dangerous winds between 74 and 95 mph will cause some damage and power outages for a few days are likely.
  • Category 2: Extremely dangerous winds between 96 and 110 mph will cause extensive damage and a near-total power loss that could last up to a few weeks.
  • Category 3: Devastating damage will occur from winds between 111 and 129 mph. Electricity and water will be unavailable for up to several weeks, and trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking roads.
  • Category 4: Catastrophic damage will occur from winds between 130 and 156 mph. Even well-built framed homes will lose most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Fallen trees and power poles will likely isolate residential areas, and power outages could last possibly months.
  • Category 5: Catastrophic damage will occur from winds 157 mph or higher. A high percentage of homes will be destroyed, and most areas will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

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Why is Hurricane Irma a big deal?

At one point, Hurricane Irma was the strongest hurricane the National Hurricane Center has ever recorded in the Atlantic outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico; it was moving as a Category 5 storm. Irma hit the Florida Keys as a Category 4 hurricane and later the mainland as a Category 3.

Hurricane Matthew hit the southern part of Haiti as a Category 4 storm on Oct. 4, 2016, and the country still hasn’t fully recovered from that devastating storm system. Projections had it hitting Haiti hard, but the country was spared from severe devastation.

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Where has Hurricane Irma hit, and where is it heading?

Hurricane Irma has now dissipated. Here’s a timeline of the Irma’s path.

Wednesday, Sept. 6:

  • Hit Antigua and Barbuda just before 2 a.m. Eastern, and most of Barbuda is destroyed. Half of the 100,000 residents of Antigua and Barbuda have had their homes destroyed or heavily damaged.
  • Hit St. Martin, Anguilla, St. Kitts, and Nevis around 8 a.m. Eastern.
  • Hit British Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico 2 p.m. Eastern. As of late Thursday, Sept. 7, 63 percent of the island’s 1.5 million power clients were still without electricity.
Damage in the wake of Hurricane Irma in the Dominican Republic wasn't as bad as predicted. (©2017 World Vision)
Damage in the wake of Hurricane Irma in the Dominican Republic wasn’t as bad as predicted. (©2017 World Vision)

Thursday, Sept. 7:

  • Dominican Republic: The storm sustained its Category 5 strength, with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph, but the Dominican Republic avoided a direct hit as it skirted just off its northern coast around 11 a.m. local time.
  • Haiti: Haiti was hit but didn’t experience nearly as much impact as expected.
  • Turks and Caicos: Irma hit late Thursday and extensive damage is being reported.

 

Friday, Sept. 8:

  • Cuba and the Bahamas: Irma hit as a Category 5 around noon Eastern time.

Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 9 and 10:

  • Hurricane Irma pummeled the Florida Keys late Saturday into Sunday as a Category 4 and hit the Florida mainland as a Category 3 storm around 1 p.m. Eastern time Sunday.
A car drives through a still-flooded area of a neighborhood in Immokalee, Fla. Sept. 13. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Eugene Lee)
A car drives through a still-flooded area of a neighborhood in Immokalee, Florida, Sept. 13. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Eugene Lee)

Monday, Sept. 11:

Tuesday, Sept. 12:

Wednesday, Sept. 13:

When did Hurricane Irma hit Florida?

Hurricane Irma made landfall over the southern Florida mainland around 1 p.m. local time Sunday, Sept. 10 as a Category 3 storm, packing winds of more than 110 miles per hour. It roared its way north, overwhelming the entire state with heavy rains and fierce winds.

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How much damage did Hurricane Irma cause?

The damage estimate from Hurricane Irma is up to $100 billion. Hurricane Matthew’s damages last year were about $15 billion. Hurricane Harvey hit the U.S. Aug. 25 as a Category 4 storm, and experts are estimating up to $180 billion in damages. Hurricane Andrew in 1992 killed 55 people and caused more than $20 billion in damage across the U.S. and the Bahamas.

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How is World Vision responding?

World Vision is providing relief in Florida. On Thursday, church leaders, volunteers, and World Vision staff distributed the first two truckloads of relief supplies to hard-hit families in Immokalee. The trucks were filled with supplies from our North Texas warehouse that were prepositioned in Atlanta until we knew the extent of the damage and where specifically to send supplies.

Supplies include: food, water, hygiene supplies, sleeping bags, coolers, towels, storm clean-up kits, and other relief items. Several trucks have been deployed, and each truck’s supplies can help up to 2,500 people. Preparation for this storm will not detract from World Vision’s continued response to Hurricane Harvey.

 

World Vision staff in Haiti and the Dominican Republic are responding to damage in their countries and are grateful their countries weren’t hit as hard as expected. Food packets, water, and some essential supplies have been distributed to those affected.

World Vision staff are working to help respond to downed trees and damage in the Dominican Republic following Hurricane Irma. Destruction in the wake of Hurricane Irma in the Dominican Republic wasn't as bad as predicted. (©2017 World Vision)
World Vision staff are working to help respond to downed trees and damage in the Dominican Republic following Hurricane Irma. Destruction in the wake of Hurricane Irma in the Dominican Republic wasn’t as bad as predicted. (©2017 World Vision)

“Our prayers have been heard, and we have been blessed,” says Luis Pereira, World Vision’s emergency director in Latin America. “We thank God for his mercy on the people of the Dominican Republic.

World Vision Haiti is reporting similar damage and response.

Dozens of people were stranded after the Couime River levels rose to dangerous levels, flooding local roads in Rodé, Haiti. (©2017 World Vision)
Dozens of people were stranded after the Couime River levels rose to dangerous levels, flooding local roads in Rodé, Haiti. (©2017 World Vision)

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How can I help Hurricane Irma survivors?

Right now, World Vision staff are working to mobilize and deliver relief supplies to affected communities as quickly and safely as possible.

  • Consider helping us continue the flow of emergency supplies by donating to World Vision’s Hurricane Irma disaster relief fund.
  • Join us in praying for people in the storm’s path as well as for staff and responders as they prepare to help: Almighty Father, we ask for Your mercy on those in Hurricane Irma’s path. Protect people. Guide aid workers and emergency responders in the run up to the storm’s landfall and as relief begins in earnest.

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Contributors: Chris Huber and Heather Klinger, World Vision staff.

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