Hurricane Irma Mapped: The Science Behind Why This Storm's Path Is the Worst Possible for Florida

Hurricane Irma's forecast track as of Friday afternoon // Map by the National Hurricane Center

by Data Journalist and Patrick Scott, The Telegraph, September 8, 2017

Hurricane Irma's current path is the worst case scenario for residents of Florida.

After initial forecasts showed the storm would probably miss major land mass entirely, Irma changed course and now has a runway of conditions perfect for sustaining itself.

Florida is set to receive the full force of the record-breaking hurricane, with residents told to evacuate from the state's southern tip.

Irma's path has homed in on Florida 

Why is Irma's current path so bad for Florida?

Aside from the obvious observation that Irma is heading straight towards the mainland of Florida, the path it is taking bodes particularly poorly for America's sunshine state.

The key to why this is lies in the science behind how hurricanes form and sustain themselves.

Hurricanes feed off warm seas, with the moisture evaporating from their paths, causing pockets of low pressure and driving up wind speeds.

They will lose power if there is enough wind shear to knock them off course or if they hit land.

Irma is enjoying all the conditions necessary to sustain itself and little of the ones needed to slow it down, becoming the first storm to sustain winds of 185mph for a period longer than a day.

While it has brought devastation to smaller Caribbean islands such as Barbuda and St Martin, it hasn't, as yet, hit any land masses large enough to slow it down.

Cuba's gain is very much Florida's loss in this regard. Had Irma hit Cuba, as it had been forecast to do a few days ago, this would likely have taken a lot of the sting out of the storm.

Instead, Irma's path has shifted to the north with the latest estimates showing the centre of the storm will slide up a corridor of very warm water between Cuba and the Bahamas. This water will help Irma maintain its ferocity and act as trail of fuel guiding the hurricane onto mainland Florida.

Irma's path to Florida

Irma is breaking records for its power, but there are signs that hurricanes of this intensity will only become more frequent as time goes by.

In the fifty years between 1900 and 1949 an average of 0.8 category four and five storms were recorded in the Atlantic every year according to the US' National Hurricane Centre.

The following fifty years saw 1.2 storms of this ferocity per year while since the turn of the millennium there have been an average of two a year.

Major hurricanes are become more frequent and intense

So far in 2017, we've had two storms of this magnitude with Hurricane Jose following hot on the heels of Irma after Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston earlier in the season.

While it is difficult to pin the causes of any one storm on climate change, the increase in global sea surface temperature will undoubtedly encourage tropical cyclones to become more powerful, if not more frequent.

If the trend so far this century is to continue, Irma's records may well be broken sooner than many will hope.

Global sea temperatures are rising 

This article was written by Data Journalist and Patrick Scott from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].

Related Stories

Irma Forecast: Hurricane Warning Issued for Florida

Jose Upgraded to Category 4 as Second Huge Hurricane Churns Towards Islands Already Hit by Irma

Airports Begin to Reopen After Irma; Seats Added for Evacuation

Hurricane Irma Cruise Updates: Ports Close, RCL Evacuates