23 Who’s Minding the Planet? HEADLINE HURRICANE ZONE [In] Dominica, the economic impact was approximately 2.5 times its annual gross domestic product, which is absolutely mind blowing. Q: You mentioned some of the more extreme storms from 2017, Harvey and Irma. Could you summarize why the past hurricane season was so intense? Phil: In the U.S., we actually had a pretty good streak of luck going. In 2004 and 2005, there were two horrible hurricane seasons. These were very active, very devastating, and most notable of all those hurricanes was Hurricane Katrina. The death toll was well over 1,000 people in Mississippi and Louisiana, from both storm surge and levee failures. But then the U.S. went eleven years without a major hurricane hitting its coasts. Again – a major hurricane is defined as a storm with winds of 111 miles per hour or greater; that's Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale. There were certainly some devastating storms like Sandy and Ike, but nothing strong enough to be a major hurricane. Then in 2017, Harvey and Irma hit the continental U.S., and Maria struck Puerto Rico and Dominica. I believe for Dominica, the economic impact was approximately 2.5 times its annual gross domestic product, which is absolutely mind blowing. Considering the U.S.’ gross domestic product is something, like, $19 trillion. To think about it proportionately… a storm doing $45 trillion in damage is just something you can't even fathom. But that's what happened, relatively speaking, for a country like Dominica. With Harvey, came a lot of wind damage near where the storm hit in central Texas...Port Aransas and Rockport. But in terms of financial damage, it would have been fairly small given the small population in that general area. But, the storm then stalled and drifted very, very slowly east and dropped enormous amounts of rain. We’re talking 40, 50, 60 inches in a couple of places, which is just mind blowing amounts of rain. The resulting flooding caused immense economic damage in the ballpark of $100 billion, maybe even more. The [National] Hurricane Center just released their Harvey Report a couple of days ago, and it really is an excellent read. I’d encourage anyone interested to check out: www.nhc.noaa.gov There are a lot of good figures in the report demonstrating the footprint of the rainfall from Harvey. It is so much more than what we have seen from some of the nasty hurricanes in Texas’ history. …And then hot on its heels, we had Hurricane Irma, which was a buzzsaw. It was incredibly powerful; the strongest hurricane in terms of winds in the Atlantic (outside of the Gulf of Mexico and Western Caribbean) on record. Irma had up to 185 mile per hour sustained winds with even stronger gusts. What was so interesting in the 2017 season was the intensity of the hurricanes. Typically, the strongest hurricanes are in the western Caribbean or in the Gulf of Mexico where the waters are warmer. But this year, we saw hurricanes like Irma reaching its peak intensity further east in the eastern Caribbean. Consequently, it pummeled several smaller islands; islands like Barbuda, and some of the British Virgin Islands. The Florida Keys were devastated, but the mainland was spared the worst of the storm. Between the Keys and just before it struck the mainland, Irma was hit by a lot of dry air and some pretty strong upper- level winds. It really disrupted the circulation of the storm, such that the back half of the storm weakened. On TV, you could see footage of the water being blown out of the bays in places like Tampa. But then, after the hurricane passed – when you’d normally expect the significant storm surge given Irma's track – the winds weren't as strong as was originally predicted. So while we saw some storm surge, we avoided massive inundations in places like Naples and Fort Myers. Some of the models were forecasting six, eight, ten feet of water in downtown Fort Myers, which would have been a horrific scene. Even in Tampa Bay, there was potential for some nasty surge there. Fortunately with Irma, the mainland of Florida dodged a bullet.