Historic and Powerful Storm Covered Entire Sunshine State with Rough Weather

To begin my blog post this evening, I will talk about another monster storm from years past to put some perspective in what has just occurred throughout the entire state of Florida over the past 24 to 36 hours. It was around this time in September 1988, I was preparing to leave for college at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and there was another monster storm I was tracking at the time.

The storm was Hurricane GilbertCategory Five Hurricanes during the relatively inactive period from 1970 to 1992. At one point, the storm even surpassed the pressure mark by the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. However, it was re-evaluated, and it was found that its lowest pressure was 888 millibars before it made landfall in the Yucatan Peninsula.

During Gilbert’s trek through the Caribbean, which included a thrashing of the Windward Islands, and then a hammering of the island of Jamaica as a Category Four Hurricane with 140 mile per hour winds, the storm grew in size much like Hurricane Irma did. Gilbert was the first storm since 1953 to have its eye cross the entire island of Jamaica. It then proceeded to head westward toward Cozumel and the Yucatan Peninsula, where it then became the strongest storm ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere at that time.

Gilbert then crossed the elevated plateau of the Yucatan, which is about 5,000 feet above sea level. Winds at landfall were gusting to near 200 miles per hour, and the storm surge was between 20 to 25 feet above normal. After going across the Yucatan, Gilbert re-emerged in the Gulf, and was expected to become a monster as it headed toward the Texas coast. It did happen though because Gilbert just couldn’t get its act together after that despite the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The storm eventually hit just south of Brownsville, Texas near Matamoros, Mexico as a Category Three storm.

Forecasters and reporters made many comparisons about the storm just like they did with Irma. One comparison that comes to mind when thinking about Hurricane Irma’s assault on Florida during the day and night on Sunday was the fact that if Hurricane Gilbert had made landfall in Florida, the entire Sunshine State would have been completely covered in hurricane force winds. Perhaps, Gilbert finally came to Florida on Sunday in the form of Irma. The once monster Category Five Hurricane, which has obliterated the Northern Leeward Islands of Barbuda, Anguilla, St. Thomas, and St. Martin, made three landfalls across Florida, but brought devastating effects to just about every corner of the state.

Watching CNN when I came home Monday afternoon, I saw how the storm has left the Florida Keys “devastated” according to Florida Governor Rick Scott. Then, I heard a report that the Mayor of Miami indicated that 72 percent of the city is without power. As a matter of fact, over 6 million Florida residents are without power in the wake of the storm, which is approximately a quarter of the population there. The city of Naples, which received the third landfall from the hurricane, is a battered community as well. Nearby Marco Island also took the brunt of the hurricane’s Category Four fury during the second landfall.

Originally thought to be a threat to Miami, and Southeastern Florida, the track of the storm went further west, which left many that had evacuated Miami, Homestead, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Pierce, and West Palm Beach, caught by surprise as the storm headed to their new locations in Tampa, Clearwater, Sarasota, Bradenton, and even more inland locations such as Orlando and Ocala. The storm not only struck further west, but then turned more eastward and eventually affected Daytona, Orlando, Ocala, and Jacksonville, where the Northeastern Florida city experienced record flooding.

Irma has broken all kinds of records, and that hasn’t stopped even though the storm has gone further inland, weakened to a minimal tropical storm, and taken on more of an extratropical storm. The tropical storm even generated the first ever Tropical Storm Warning for the City of Atlanta. Places like Charleston, South Carolina are experiencing memorable surge. At about 9 feet above normal, Irma’s surge, even in a more dilapidated state, still ranks third all-time there behind Hugo (1989) at 18.4, and Matthew (2016). Even New Jersey was seeing some of the clouds from the storm.

Looking outside after work, I could see that there were some high cirrus clouds in the late afternoon sky. When, I got home, and saw the satelllite of Irma at about 6:00 PM Monday, you could see the northern edge of the storm’s remnants were fanning out toward the Mid-Atlantic. Let’s also keep in mind that Hurricane Jose is still out in the Atlantic as well although it has been downgraded to a Category Two Hurricane with just 100 mile per hour winds as it moves into the Sargasso Sea. Many models are showing Jose reinvigorating itself before coming up the East Coast of the United States.