Hurricane Irma — a powerful Category 5 storm that has already torn through a string of Caribbean islands — is heading toward Florida. Here's what you need to know.
With the storm barrelling toward Florida for a potentially catastrophic blow this weekend, normally quick trips turned into daylong journeys on crowded highways amid a constant search for gasoline and lodging. Airline seats out of Florida were in short supply as well.
Forecasters and state officials believe Hurricane Irma could be as damaging in terms of economic impact as Andrew in 1992, which for nearly 13 years was considered the costliest U.S. hurricane.
Approximately 5.6 million people in South Florida were under mandatory evacuation orders Thursday, and Gov. Rick Scott urged people in the state to heed that call immediately, but to be patient as so many made the trek north and inland.
Hurricane Irma tore through the Turks and Caicos Thursday evening with sustained winds of 280 km/h, the National Hurricane Center said. Irma was moving near the north coast of Cuba and central Bahamas Friday night and into Saturday
Earlier in the day, French, British and Dutch rescuers rushed aid to the Caribbean islands devastated by the hurricane, which left at least 22 dead and thousands homeless.
The strength of hurricanes is measured by the Saffir-Simpson wind scale, which ranges from Category 1 to Category 5 with winds of 252 km/h or higher. Why isn't there a Category 6?
"Because once you say catastrophic and there's near complete damage, why do you need a 6?" Dennis Feltgen, a spokesperson for the National Hurricane Center, told CBC News.
High sea-surface temperatures, minimal variation in wind speed and direction as well as moist air combined to create this mega-storm, said Ian Folkins, a researcher with the department of physics and atmospheric science at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
Water evaporates from the surface and rises, leaving an area of lower pressure underneath. The surrounding air gets drawn in to take the place of the rising air, and certain wind conditions can cause that air to rotate.
"Paradoxically," said Folkins, "what you need in the initial stages is weak winds."
WestJet, Air Canada and Air Transat have all announced that they were sending planes to the Dominican Republic and Turks and Caicos to get travellers out of the path of Irma.
Hello, we've added extra sections out of the Caribbean and are doing all we can to get them on their way ASAP. /nw— @AirCanada
But some Canadians in the path of Hurricane Irma were forced to hunker down and ride out the storm. A group of Albertans studying in Puerto Rico were staying put in their dorm after being unable to secure any departing flights back home.
Irma from space
NASA has many eyes on Irma, particularly in space.
Here, the space agency provides animation from its GOES (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) East satellite, which shows imagery from Sept. 3 to Sept. 7 ending at 8:45 a.m. ET.
And a view of Irma's eye over four days, as seen by the GOES16 Advanced Baseline Imager.