Hurricane Irma is coming and it’s going to be a beast. That much we know. But there’s still plenty about the massive storm that is unclear, including its path, when it will make landfill and how the areas likely to be hardest hit will respond.
Right now, Irma is expected to reach South Florida as a category 4 storm, meaning it will bring sustained winds of at least 130 mph. By some, estimates, the winds could be swirling as fast as 150 mph by the time Irma makes landfall, putting it among the strongest hurricanes to ever hit Florida. There is even some indication that Irma may be speeding up, with the possibility that it regains category 5 status.
But it’s not just that wind that Floridians have to worry about. There’s also the deadly storm surge, coastal flooding, and in some cases, increased potential for tornadoes. And no area is under more threat than Miami and its suburbs, home to 4.5 million people.
On Friday morning, the National Weather Service put out four maps of South Florida showing the severity of Irma’s different threats. Miami and the surrounding areas are the only place where wind, storm surge, flooding, and tornado threats are all at their highest levels.
The good news is that Miami might be the city most well equipped to handle a storm of Irma’s strength. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew, the last category 5 storm to hit the U.S., destroyed 125,000 homes in the area and caused $26 billion in damages. The storm largely missed downtown Miami, but laid waste to the city of Homestead, which sits southwest of the larger city. In the aftermath of Andrew, South Florida remade itself to ensure that a similar storm would not cause comparable devastation.