NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, September 8th, 2017

Hurricane Irma heading for the United States; Florida will take direct, devastating hit

Sun­shine will soon be but a mem­o­ry in the Sun­shine State, with the most pow­er­ful Atlantic hur­ri­cane ever record­ed set to roar ashore in a mat­ter of hours.

“If” is no longer a ques­tion. Irma is com­ing and it’s going to be bad.

Hurricane Irma

A VIIRS satel­lite image of Hur­ri­cane Irma on Sep­tem­ber 3 (NASA)

Manda­to­ry evac­u­a­tions have been ordered for most of Flori­da’s coastal com­mu­ni­ties and offi­cials are brac­ing for what could be the state’s costli­est dis­as­ter ever. Class­es and sport­ing events have been can­celed, build­ings are being board­ed up, and hos­pi­tals are mov­ing patients. There’s also been a run on basic sup­plies. In some loca­tions, gas, bot­tled, water, and gro­ceries have become scarce.

North­bound traf­fic on the state’s major inter­state high­ways is heavy as res­i­dents make their way out of the hur­ri­cane’s expect­ed path. Flights out of Flori­da, mean­while, are hard to find as all the tick­ets have been snapped up.

Amtrak is sus­pend­ing all ser­vice in, to, and from Flori­da plus the Geor­gia coast begin­ning tomor­row. No alter­na­tive trans­porta­tion will be provided.

Offi­cials now fear Irma could cause unprece­dent­ed dam­age to Flori­da — and only weeks after Hur­ri­cane Har­vey did the same to Texas and Louisiana.

Just how cat­a­stroph­ic South Flori­da lead­ers fear Hur­ri­cane Irma could be became evi­dent Thurs­day when Mia­mi-Dade Coun­ty ordered an evac­u­a­tion the may­or called “unprece­dent­ed,” as hope dimin­ished that the Cat­e­go­ry 5 beast would some­how avoid us.

“We have to pre­pare for the worst,” May­or Car­los Gimenez said moments after instruct­ing more than 650,000 peo­ple to get out.

His deci­sion, announced after a lengthy inter­nal analy­sis of flood maps and pro­jec­tions of poten­tial­ly dead­ly storm surge, made the Nation­al Hur­ri­cane Center’s Thurs­day fore­casts final­ly sink in: Irma is set to hit the Flori­da penin­su­la direct­ly, though exact­ly where con­tin­ues to be uncertain.

Increas­ing­ly grim-faced emer­gency man­agers across the state did not hes­i­tate. Evac­u­a­tions extend­ed from the Flori­da Keys to Palm Beach and beyond, as coun­ties along Florida’s east coast eyed the storm’s pro­ject­ed path north.

Even Geor­gia required its coastal res­i­dents to leave.

Speak­ing of Geor­gia, here’s an update from Savan­nah:

The mes­sage from emer­gency offi­cials to Savan­nah area res­i­dents is sim­ple: Go west and go soon.

“We are pret­ty much assured that we are going to get some­thing from this storm,” said Den­nis Jones, direc­tor of the Chatham Coun­ty Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency. “It all depends how that storm comes up the coast of Flori­da as to how bad of an impact it will be to us. But we’re pret­ty con­fi­dent we’re going to get some­thing from this storm.”

With Irma impacts look­ing more inevitable here with each update from the Nation­al Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter, Gov. Nathan Deal on Thurs­day announced a manda­to­ry evac­u­a­tion order for Chatham Coun­ty that will begin 8 AM Saturday.

At that time all lanes on Inter­state 16 will be flow­ing west.

Jones said even ear­li­er depar­tures could help fam­i­lies avoid clogged roads. His own fam­i­ly is head­ed to Dublin on Fri­day, he said.

A manda­to­ry evac­u­a­tion order requires all res­i­dents, busi­ness­es and vis­i­tors and oth­ers in the tar­get area to evacuate.

Refus­ing to com­ply is a mis­de­meanor under the coun­ty code pun­ish­able by up to 60 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. While res­i­dents are unlike­ly to be charged, peo­ple who vio­late the order are putting their lives and fam­i­lies in jeopardy.

Prepa­ra­tions are under­way in Savan­nah to pro­tect build­ings from the storm. Savan­nah has twen­ty-two his­toric squares in down­town that are at least par­tial­ly shel­tered by sur­round­ing build­ings, but may still take dam­age from Irma.

Pub­lic employ­ees will stay in town as the hur­ri­cane pass­es through to ensure the pumps con­tin­ue to oper­ate. They’ll ride out the storm from places of safety.

Near­by Tybee Island is already emp­ty­ing out, as its only road link to the main­land is expect­ed to be sub­merged by flood­ing in short order.

Any­one think­ing of stay­ing behind in Irma’s path needs to know that they will be on their own if they do. Calls for help will go unan­swered; first respon­ders will not be ven­tur­ing out to pro­vide assis­tance when the storm hits.

“We will not go out. We will pro­tect our employ­ees and hun­ker down,” said Mia­mi Beach police chief Dan Oates, in com­ments report­ed by the Mia­mi Her­ald.

The winds will prob­a­bly be fierce, but the risk of flood­ing is what coastal res­i­dents real­ly need to be wor­ried out. That’s why it’s a good idea to get out — NOW.

The most recent hur­ri­cane warn­ing from the Nation­al Weath­er Ser­vice is grim.

WIND

  • LATEST LOCAL FORECAST 
    • Equiv­a­lent Strong Trop­i­cal Storm force wind
    • Peak Wind Fore­cast: 45–60 mph with gusts to 80 mph
    • Win­dow for Trop­i­cal Storm force winds: Sat­ur­day evening until Mon­day afternoon
  • CURRENT THREAT TO LIFE AND PROPERTY: Extreme 
    • The wind threat has remained near­ly steady from the pre­vi­ous assessment.
    • Emer­gency plans should include a rea­son­able threat for major hur­ri­cane force wind greater than 110 mph of equiv­a­lent Cat­e­go­ry 3 inten­si­ty or higher.
    • To be safe, aggres­sive­ly pre­pare for the poten­tial of dev­as­tat­ing to cat­a­stroph­ic wind impacts. Remain­ing efforts to secure prop­er­ties should now be brought to completion.
    • Extreme­ly dan­ger­ous and life-threat­en­ing wind is pos­si­ble. Fail­ure to ade­quate­ly shel­ter may result in seri­ous injury, loss of life, or immense human suf­fer­ing. Move to safe shel­ter before the wind becomes hazardous.
  • POTENTIAL IMPACTS: Dev­as­tat­ing to Catastrophic 
    • Struc­tur­al dam­age to stur­dy build­ings, some with com­plete roof and wall fail­ures. Com­plete destruc­tion of mobile homes. Dam­age great­ly accen­tu­at­ed by large air­borne pro­jec­tiles. Loca­tions may be unin­hab­it­able for weeks or months.
    • Numer­ous large trees snapped or uproot­ed along with fences and road­way signs blown over.
    • Many roads impass­able from large debris, and more with­in urban or heav­i­ly wood­ed places. Many bridges, cause­ways, and access routes impassable.
    • Wide­spread pow­er and com­mu­ni­ca­tions outages.

STORM SURGE

  • LATEST LOCAL FORECAST: Life-threat­en­ing storm surge possible 
    • Peak Storm Surge Inun­da­tion: The poten­tial for 5–8 feet
      above ground some­where with­in surge prone areas
    • Win­dow of con­cern: Begins ear­ly Sat­ur­day evening
  • CURRENT THREAT TO LIFE AND PROPERTY: High 
    • The storm surge threat has remained near­ly steady from the pre­vi­ous assessment.
    • Emer­gency plans should include a rea­son­able threat for major storm surge flood­ing of greater than 6 feet above ground.
    • To be safe, aggres­sive­ly pre­pare for the poten­tial of exten­sive storm surge flood­ing impacts. Evac­u­a­tion efforts should now be brought to com­ple­tion. Evac­u­a­tions must be com­plete before dri­ving con­di­tions become unsafe.
    • Life-threat­en­ing inun­da­tion is pos­si­ble. Fail­ure to heed evac­u­a­tion orders may result in seri­ous injury, sig­nif­i­cant loss of life, or human suf­fer­ing. Leave if evac­u­a­tion orders are giv­en for your area. Con­sid­er vol­un­tary evac­u­a­tion if rec­om­mend­ed. Poor deci­sions may result in being cut off or need­less­ly risk lives.
  • POTENTIAL IMPACTS: Extensive 
    • Large areas of deep inun­da­tion with storm surge flood­ing accen­tu­at­ed by bat­ter­ing waves. Struc­tur­al dam­age to build­ings, with sev­er­al wash­ing away. Dam­age com­pound­ed by float­ing debris. Loca­tions may be unin­hab­it­able for an extend­ed period.
    • Large sec­tions of near-shore escape routes and sec­ondary roads washed out or severe­ly flood­ed. Flood con­trol sys­tems and bar­ri­ers may become stressed.
    • Severe beach ero­sion with sig­nif­i­cant dune loss.
    • Major dam­age to mari­nas, docks, board­walks, and piers. Many small craft bro­ken away from moor­ings, espe­cial­ly in unpro­tect­ed anchor­ages with some lift­ed onshore and stranded.

FLOODING RAIN

  • LATEST LOCAL FORECAST: Peak Rain­fall Amounts: Addi­tion­al 8–12 inch­es, with local­ly high­er amounts
  • CURRENT THREAT TO LIFE AND PROPERTY: Moderate 
    • The flood­ing rain threat has remained near­ly steady from the pre­vi­ous assessment.
    • Emer­gency plans should include a rea­son­able threat for mod­er­ate flood­ing where peak rain­fall totals notably exceed amounts con­ducive for flash flood­ing and rapid inun­da­tion. Res­cues and emer­gency evac­u­a­tions are possible.
    • To be safe, earnest­ly pre­pare for the poten­tial of sig­nif­i­cant flood­ing rain impacts.
    • Dan­ger­ous flood­ing is pos­si­ble. Fail­ure to take action may result in seri­ous injury or loss of life. If flood relat­ed watch­es and warn­ings are issued, heed rec­om­mend­ed actions.
  • POTENTIAL IMPACTS: Significant 
    • Mod­er­ate rain­fall flood­ing may prompt sev­er­al evac­u­a­tions and rescues.
    • Ditch­es and canals may quick­ly become swollen with swift cur­rents and over­spill their banks in a few places, espe­cial­ly in usu­al­ly vul­ner­a­ble spots.
    • Flood waters can enter some struc­tures or weak­en foun­da­tions. Sev­er­al places may expe­ri­ence expand­ed areas of rapid inun­da­tion at under­pass­es, low-lying spots, and poor drainage areas. Some streets and park­ing lots take on mov­ing water as storm drains and reten­tion ponds over­flow. Dri­ving con­di­tions become haz­ardous. Some road and bridge closures.

TORNADO

  • LATEST LOCAL FORECAST: Sit­u­a­tion is some­what favor­able for tornadoes
  • CURRENT THREAT TO LIFE AND PROPERTY: Elevated 
    • The tor­na­do threat has remained near­ly steady from the pre­vi­ous assessment.
    • When imple­ment­ing emer­gency plans, include a rea­son­able threat for iso­lat­ed tornadoes.
    • To be safe, pre­pare for the poten­tial of lim­it­ed tor­na­do impacts.
    • Lis­ten for tor­na­do watch­es and warn­ings. Be ready to shel­ter quick­ly if a tor­na­do approaches.
  • POTENTIAL IMPACTS: Limited 
    • The occur­rence of iso­lat­ed tor­na­does can hin­der the exe­cu­tion of emer­gency plans dur­ing trop­i­cal events.
    • A few places may expe­ri­ence tor­na­do dam­age, along with pow­er and com­mu­ni­ca­tions disruptions.
    • Loca­tions could real­ize roofs peeled off build­ings, mobile homes pushed off foun­da­tions or over­turned, large tree tops and branch­es snapped off, shal­low-root­ed trees knocked over, mov­ing vehi­cles blown off roads, and small boats pulled from moorings.

If you have any rel­a­tives or friends in Flori­da or coastal Geor­gia, now would be a good time to check on them and ask if they’ve evac­u­at­ed or are about to.

Mean­while, Hur­ri­cane Jose is on its way into the Car­ribbean, fol­low­ing Hur­ri­cane Irma, and is like­ly to deal a sec­ond punch to islands that already felt Irma’s wrath.

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One Comment

  1. Peo­ple bet­ter evac­u­ate. Don’t want to read about lat­er about folks not heed­ing the warn­ings and per­ish­ing as a result. 

    # by Lou Becerra :: September 15th, 2017 at 2:35 PM