From space, Hurricane Irma looks like a superstorm from another planet

7 Sep 2017

NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite captured this image of Hurricane Irma on 4 September. Image: NOAA/NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

Hurricane Irma has already almost completely destroyed a number of Caribbean islands, and now the massive storm is moving to North America.

Only a matter of weeks after Houston was severely damaged as a result of Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma is continuing to destroy large parts of the Caribbean as it moves westward towards an expected landfall in Florida.

The category-five hurricane, the most powerful ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, has already seen winds of just under 300kph destroy 95pc of the French island of St Martin, with 60pc of Antigua and Barbuda’s population now homeless following the destruction of 90pc of its structures.

In the US territory of Puerto Rico, San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said that the fear amongst those in the city and island was noticeable.

“This is the first time since I became mayor almost five years ago that people have come to the shelters without anyone have [sic] to ask,” she said, according to The Guardian.

“People are concerned, they are scared. Puerto Ricans cannot fathom what a category-five hurricane is about – it’s something we’ve never heard of.”

Collage of Hurricane Irma

Collage of night-time and infrared images of Hurricane Irma when it was a category-four storm. Image: NASA/NOAA/UWM/CIMSS/William Straka III

While videos of the affected countries show an apocalyptic storm tearing through neighbourhoods, from space, the storm looks similar to the colossal ones seen on other, larger planets in our solar system.

Images taken by NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement satellite on 5 September created a 3D picture of a storm that was reaching altitudes of as high as 12.5km. In a band to the south-west of the storm’s eye, a height of 16.2km was recorded.

While the colour-graded images reveal the terrifying power of the storm, its sheer scale can truly be understood from the view of the International Space Station (ISS).

While expected to travel over the northern fringe of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, Irma is set to make its biggest landfall over the US state of Florida, in the path of approximately 7m people.

The state’s governor, Rick Scott, has already declared a state of emergency and has called on people to prepare for the worst.

“Get prepared, know your evacuation route,” he said. “This storm has the potential to devastate our state and we need to take it very seriously.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic