Hurricane Irma to deliver more waves and landfall

Hurricane Irma is literally eating its way across the Caribbean right now – a scientific marvel of pure power and symmetry, about to send waves to nearly all of the East Coast, but also bringing the potential for massive devastation.

The National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. update on Tuesday reported Irma’s sustained winds at a staggering 185 mph with gusts up to 225 mph, the strongest storm ever recorded outside the Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico. Regional buoys are registering 11.5-foot swells at 13 seconds.

The projected path and intensity of Hurricane Irma. This one may not be all about waves. Photo: Courtesy of National Hurricane Center

According to early forecasts, it was supposed to be an average year by the numbers, but hurricane season 2017 is proving to be anything but ordinary.

In terms of overall scope, any meteorologist will point out that a few outliers and landfalling storms do not make for a necessarily more active year. But while an average season sees 10 storms of tropical-storm strength or greater, this year has already seen double digits with several days remaining until the historical high point of the season on Sept. 10.

The summer started quietly, but the last month has seen four storms become hurricanes (two of them major). With sea-surface conditions high and wind shear low, Hurricane Harvey was a Cat 4 before it slammed into Texas, and Hurricane Irma is now a rare Cat 5.

Surfers and weather folk have been eyeballing Irma since even before it came off the coast of Africa on Aug. 27. By Aug. 30, she was a tropical storm, then saw a rapid intensification to a Cat 3 major hurricane within the next 30 hours.

Irma swell arrived in the Caribbean earlier this week. The East Coast of Barbados had heavy conditions Tuesday with easily double-overhead waves, descended on by a host of global pro surfers including the Vans team. Sadly, young local pro surfer Zander Venezia died after impact on the reef from a closeout set. The Bajan surf community has been badly shaken.

The East Coast, from Florida to New England, should start to see groundswell by Wednesday, possibly building into the weekend. But swell may not be the major story with Irma. Much of the Caribbean is currently under hurricane watch and Florida Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency. Some counties in Southern Florida are already being evacuated. The National Hurricane Center is predicting that Irma will still be a major hurricane when it reaches the Straits of Florida (South Florida to Cuba) on or around Sunday morning.

From there, the track is less certain, but the probability that Florida and/or areas in the Southeast could see a historic landfalling hurricane is very real. Even after landfall, an inland track or potential emergence over the Atlantic Ocean could cause a massive swath of damage while resources are tied up in Texas following Harvey's flooding. In addition, Tropical Storm Jose was named today, farther out in the Atlantic, and Tropical Depression 13 is being monitored off the West Coast of Mexico.

While these storms tend to be exciting and often bring days of waves to the Atlantic and Gulf, Irma may be a different beast for anyone within a few hundred miles. GrindTV offers the strongest of caution to anyone looking for swell, and strength to those in its path.

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