On August 27th, Hurricane Irma formed a little off the coast of Africa. Many assumed that Irma would be a normal storms, as storms at this time of the year aren’t unusual.
However, Irma went from a non-threatening storm to a category 5 hurricane -- the highest classification available, with winds 157 mph or higher. Read our article HERE on how hurricanes form and grow. This prompted Florida to issue its largest evacuation order in history, to nearly 5.6 million residents living in the impact zone.
Irma lost speed passing small islands in the Caribbean next, however, regained a category 5 as it hit northern Cuba on Friday. Along with other cities, the capital, Havana, was flooded overnight. In many coastal cities, buildings were destroyed or completely flooded over and residents are without electricity.
Irma Changes Direction
On Sunday morning, Irma hit Florida Keys, and then turned towards the mainland. Disaster relief and rescue teams started prepping for the worst.
But Irma changed her mind. Had the hurricane been a little north of Cuba, it would have gained strength over water and continued on as a Category 5 hurricane. However, after striking Cuba, Irma started losing energy. As she neared the mainland, strong winds blowing in the upper layers of the atmosphere started breaking up the hurricane's swirling winds. And Irma started swaying towards Tampa Bay on the west coast of Florida, instead of Miami in the East.
The center of the hurricane is called its "eye" which is unusually calm. The "eye wall" of the hurricane is responsible for the heavy winds that cause havoc. Irma's eye wall started to weaken with the loss of energy, and the impact was not as severe as it had been projected. Contrast this to how the lack of winds in Harvey's case, caused it to linger over the Texas Gulf and wreak havoc (as explained in our earlier article).
Effect of Hurricanes On the Environment
While we usually associate hurricanes with the destruction of cities, hurricanes can also have a profound impact on the environment. Strong waves can recreate coastlines, reshaping and eroding them away, making them more vulnerable to future storms. High winds can damage forests, weakening root structures that (literally) hold ground together.
Animals, especially birds, are often killed or left to die when a hurricane has gone through the area, because they are left with no shelter or food. In the oceans, the water changes as well: lower oxygen levels or changes in the water composition cause fish other aquatic animals to die off.
And not only that: to rebuild the damage caused by the hurricane will require billions of dollars. For those who would like to help out, companies such as the Red Cross and GlobalGiving are open to donations to help victims of the hurricane.