Heat and high pressure: Why Hurricane Irma became the ‘perfect storm’ and hasn’t slowed down yet

Thursday, September 7, 2017
By Paul Martin

High ocean temperatures and high pressure turned Hurricane Irma into the massive category five storm
It emerged off the west coast of Guinea-Bissau, Africa ten days ago and didn’t curve north away from the US because of high pressure
Waters from the Lesser Antilles to the Florida Keys are particularly warm right now as it approaches the usual annual peak season
Warmer ocean temperatures mean the storm is able to lift more water which fueled it into a category five hurricane

7 September 2017

A perfect storm of climatic conditions turned Hurricane Irma into the monster that is currently wreaking havoc on the Caribbean and headed for the US mainland.

Unusually warm ocean water in the Atlantic, high atmospheric pressure and weak wind shear have combined to fuel the category five tropical cyclone.

Wind speeds of 250 kph were recorded as it hit land in Barbuda yesterday morning, before instruments broke.
With ocean winds reaching sustained speeds of 183 mph (295 kph), this makes Irma the strongest storm to ever form over the Atlantic.

For Irma to not only gain its strength but subsequently maintain it, it had to encounter a series of conditions that can fuel hurricanes.

It started off west of the Guinea-Bissau, Africa, ten days ago, where it was classified as a common type of summer storm, a Cape Verde hurricane.

After making its way west through the Cape Verde Islands, it traveled south for several days, before moving northwest towards the Caribbean.

Along the way, it encountered warmer waters which fueled its ferocity, rapidly rising shortly after formation, becoming a category two storm within 24 hours.

On September 5, Irma became a Category five hurricane, and by early the next day, it reached peak intensity.

According to hurricane researcher and meteorologist Philip Klotzbach, only Hurricane Allen has stayed this intense for this long.

Dr Klotzbach, of Colorado State University, told USA Today: ‘The high pressure was just a little extra strong to keep it tracking south of due west.’

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