Hot on Harvey’s Heels, Hurricane Irma Is Gathering Speed. Here’s What You Need to Know.

“You usually don’t see models predicting a Category 5.”  

NASA/NOAA/Goddard Rapid Response Team

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Update, September 5, 2017: Hurricane Irma is now a powerful and dangerous Category 5 storm with 175 mile per hour winds. The National Weather Service has issued hurricane warnings for several islands in the Caribbean including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands saying, “preparations should be rushed to completion in the hurricane warning area.” There’s still some uncertainty, but Irma could continue westward and make landfall in South Florida later this week. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency across the state, ahead of the storm.

As Texas begins the long road to recovery after Hurricane Harvey made landfall as Category 4 storm last week, another storm is brewing in the Atlantic.

Hurricane Irma is currently a Category 2 storm packing winds of 110 miles per hour, and we’re still days away from knowing if it will reach land or, mercifully, turn back out to sea.  The National Hurricane Center is forecasting that Irma will remain powerful for days and meteorologists are already in awe of the storm’s potential strength, but it’s too soon to tell where the storm is headed. 

“I’m seeing some of the highest wind forecast that I’ve seen,” Michael Ventrice, a meteorological scientist, tells Mother Jones. What’s striking about Irma is how early the models have predicted its strength. “You usually don’t see models predicting a Category 5,”  Ventrice says. “With regards to Harvey, we only had one to two days of knowing it would be a major storm.”

Meteorologists are running several models tracking the potential path of the storm. 

“Stronger storms typically curve up the Eastern Seaboard,” Ventrice says, “but there’s a split in the models,” which now predict the hurricane could make landfall anywhere from Florida, the Carolinas, the Mid-Atlantic region or back out to sea. Notably, Florida has not been directly hit by a hurricane since 2005. (Last year, Hurricane Matthew tracked perilously close to the state’s coast.)

Some models track the potential of the storm turning back out to sea, while others look at a potential path over the Caribbean islands and to the Gulf of Mexico. Weather patterns such as high and low pressure systems could also play a role in the path and intensity of the storm.

The uncertainty hasn’t stopped internet hoaxers from circulating fake forecast maps that show Irma following the path of Harvey, prompting the National Weather Service to tweet out a real forecast.

Those affected by Harvey and people on the east coast should keep an eye on the storm, but it’s much too early to take any protective measures. Ventrice warns that the storm is “still a wait and see type of thing.”


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend