Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida on Sunday morning after making its way across the Atlantic as one of the most powerful storms on record. Irma’s sheer size and power had many asking, “what allowed it to get so strong?”
“The dynamical set up in the atmosphere was extremely favorable for Irma to develop into a major hurricane and maintain very high intensity,” climatologist Judith Curry told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Irma formed off the African coast in late August and quickly became a hurricane strength event in sea surface temperatures around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Within hours, Irma became a Category 3 storm.
Hurricanes need warm water, low wind shear and lots of moisture to gain strength. Irma formed at the perfect time. Hurricane season usually peaks in September when the Atlantic Ocean sees its hottest temperatures and has a lot of moisture.
Curry said a major reason Irma intensified so quickly was because of weak wind shear. Wind shear takes away the heat and moisture hurricanes feed off, and it tilts a storm’s vortex, further weakening it. Irma was able to put warm water and moisture to use because of the low wind shear.
“In fact, the dynamics were probably more important than the warm sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic and Caribbean,” Curry said. “Irma reached Cat 3 status over temperatures in the Atlantic that weren’t all that warm.”
The storm reached Category 5 as it moved into warmer air and water near the Caribbean. Irma maintained wind speeds of 185 miles per hour for 37 hours — a record in the satellite era.
Irma temporarily weakened after making landfall in Cuba, but strengthened to a Category 4 storm Sunday morning when it hit the Florida Keys.
Irma hit Florida has a Category 3 storm, bringing 142-mile-per-hour wind gusts and “catastrophic” storm surge, according to weather forecasting officials.
For days, Florida residents prepared for the massive storm. Many saw the footage of complete devastation wrought by the massive storm, which was much larger than the infamous Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Irma weakened to a Category 2 by the evening while making its way up Florida’s west coast.
The storm made landfall a little more than two weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast, which was linked to man-made global warming by some in the climate science community.
University of Washington climate scientist Cliff Mass took on claims global warming made Hurricane Harvey worse. He looked at the data and found man-made warming played an “inconsequential” role in the storm.