The one-two punch delivered by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma has left the southern United States and many islands in the northern Caribbean reeling, collectively resulting in more than 130 deaths, massive long-term flooding, and property damage totaling to a minimum of $132 billion — a number expected to climb dramatically as the aftermath of Irma’s rampage is assessed.
The first major hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. in 12 years, Harvey was also the wettest tropical hurricane on record in the contiguous United States., dumping 51.88 inches (1,31.8 centimeters) — four and one-third feet — of rainfall. The resulting flooding inundated hundreds of thousands of homes, displacing more than 30,000 people.
Not to be outdone, Hurricane Irma set even more record, due in no small part to its strengthening to a category-5 storm while still in the open Atlantic Ocean. This made it the strongest Atlantic storm on record outside of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, with sustained wind speeds of 185 mph (298 km/h).
Irma maintained those 185 mph winds for 37 straight hours, making it the longest storm in history to maintain that level of intensity. The previous record holder was 2013’s Pacific Typhoon Haiyan, holding its windspeed for 24 hours.
Irma also had the lowest minimum pressure over its lifetime (915 millibars) of an Atlantic hurricane outside of the western Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico on record,.
Irma beat 2008’s Hurricane Ike for its duration as a hurricane, 10.75 days for Irma and 10 days for Ike.
Irma now holds the record for the highest Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) over a 24-hour period (previously held by 1980’s Hurricane Allen), with more ACE generated by Irma alone than the eight preceding named hurricanes of the current season combined.
Because of its early strengthening while still in the open Atlantic Ocean, Irma is also the strongest hurricane ever to have hit the Leeward Islands, with it’s 185 mph winds easily outpacing 1928’s Okeechobee Hurricane and 1979’s Hurricane David, both with 160 mph winds. The resulting devastation is even evident from outer space, with satellite images of islands such as Barbuda and both the British and U.S. Virgin Islands appearing as browned landscapes, despite being a lush green in images taken before Irma devastated them.