Will Hurricane Irma Be Like Hurricane Andrew?

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In 1992, Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm, hit Florida just south of Miami. The storm did $27 billion worth of damage and killed 65 people. If Hurricane Irma, another Category 5 storm that has entered the Caribbean, tracks north of its current path, it could strike Florida near the same spot Andrew did. The devastation of the new storm could be worse.

Miami’s population was 358,000 in 1990. It is over 453,000 now. The much larger Miami–Fort Lauderdale–West Palm Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area is much larger, stretching from over 50 miles north of the big city. Its population in 1990 was 4.1 million, but that figure has risen to 6.0 million.

Most of Miami is not on land much higher than sea level. The storm surge from Irma could drench the city, its real estate and anyone who stays behind and does not evacuate in the face of the storm.

Much of the housing to accommodate these people is new. This includes huge skyscrapers in downtown Miami. It is not clear the extent to which these could weather the storm. The Everglades, just inland from most of the region, sit on limestone, which also spreads under Miami. There is no traditional earth and rock coast to protect the city. The Biscayne Aquifer, as it is known, could push ocean salt water all the way inland to the Everglades, doing untold damage.

Various estimates are that Irma could cause $100 billion to $150 billion in damage if it hits close to Miami. That would make it much more expensive than Hurricane Harvey, which decimated areas around Houston. Insurance companies would have to pay out unprecedented amounts for repairs.

Within the past few hours, Weather.com reported:

Hurricane Irma, a dangerous Category 5 hurricane, has blasted the island of Barbuda, an island of 1600 residents, with gusts of at least 155 mph. Irma will soon rake through St. Martin, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Hispañola, the Bahamas and Cuba before posing a serious threat to Florida and parts of the Southeast beginning this weekend.

The effects will be worse if it tracks up the East Coast. By several measures, Irma could be a much larger destructive force than Andrew.