What a hurricane season it has been with three major hurricanes hitting land in the Atlantic basin starting with Harvey then Irma and finishing with Maria all within 27 days during the height of the season. Each Hurricane was devastating to the communities affected and it is extremely difficult to rank these three. Each impacted large areas,killed many and crippled infrastructures. Now what does rank mean? I will rank these three hurricanes based on impacts on human lives. I will give descriptions of each of the three hurricanes in order in which they developed (stats may not be exact as these are ongoing disasters). It all started with a tropical depression east of the Windward Islands on August 17th and like it’s predecessors early in the season struggled to survive due to unfavorable conditions aloft. The system weakened to an open wave in the central Caribbean, traveled west crossing the Yucatan Peninsula in the western Caribbean where if finally found a favorable position with low shear and very warm sea surface temperatures. On August 24th it developed into Tropical Storm Harvey in the Bay of Campeche and at this point the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season took a turn for the worst. In less than nine hours Harvey would become a hurricane setting the stage for several powerful hurricanes in less than a month.
Hurricane Harvey rapidly intensified to 130 mph as it made it’s way onshore just north Of Corpus Christi,Texas late on August 25th. The wind damage was extensive in Rockport and surrounding communities in Texas but this was just the beginning of what would be a deadly flooding situation in the Houston area over to Port Arthur,TX and western Louisiana. For the next five days Harvey would force nearly 40,000 residents from their homes after dumping over 50″ of rain in some locations as Harvey flooded over 100,000 homes. Costliest of big three est 180 Billion in damage
Less than a week later Tropical Storm Irma forms west of the Cabo Verde Islands and once again becomes a hurricane in less than 24 hrs. On September 6th the eye of Hurricane Irma passed over the tiny island of Barbuda with 185mph winds causing complete devastation and leaving the island uninhabitable. Next up would be the islands of St Martin/Sint Maarten , Anguilla, Saint Barthelemy , St. Kitts and Nevis , St. Eustatius all with extremely heavy damage by the same 185mph winds. Next would be the Virgin Islands of St Thomas and St John 185mph direct hit same results with extreme damage. Irma would pass just north of Puerto Rico causing quite a bit of damage and left residents feeling like they dodged a bullet ,little did they know what was coming next. Hurricane Irma weakened slightly to 165mph while passing just north of Great Inagua Bahamas causing heavy damage but sparing the island of Irma’s worst winds. On September 9th Hurricane Irma raked 250 miles of the north coast of Cuba entering west of Nuevitas regaining cat 5 status and exiting well east of Havana with 120mph winds taking ten lives before turning towards the Florida Keys. On September 10th Hurricane Irma hit the lower keys with 130mph winds while turning NNW causing very heavy damage from Big Pine Key to Islamorada est one in three structures heavily damaged. That same evening of Sept 10th Irma made it’s final landfall in Naples with 110mph winds causing heavy damage to weaker structures such as mobile homes. Irma continued weakening while moving up Florida’s west coast causing hurricane force wind gust’s over nearly the entire peninsula causing the largest power outages in Florida’s history affecting over 6 million customers . Up in Georgia Tropical Storm Irma caused trees to topple and left of 1 Million without power. In South Carolina coastal flooding in some areas was worse than reported from Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Most intense winds of big three 185 mph in Barbuda,St Martin/Maarten,Anguilla,Saint Barthelemy,St. Kitts and Nevis , St. Eustatius,St John,St Thomas.
Once again less than a week later on September 16th a tropical depression formed east of the Lesser Antilles. Once again in less than 24 hrs hurricane Maria is born and within 48 hrs Maria becomes major. On the evening of September 18th Hurricane Maria hits the tiny island nation of Dominica with 160 mph winds a category five. The island was devastated and when all finished Maria left 27 dead. Next up would be the island of St Croix where Hurricane Maria was at it’s strongest with 175mph winds while passing just south. The damage here was reported as worse than what happened in 1989s Hurricane Hugo leaving the entire island without power. Next up would be Puerto Rico as Hurricane Maria approached from the S.E on Sept 20th with 155 mph winds and crossing the entire island as a major hurricane. The entire island was hit extremely hard knocking out the entire power structure and killing 51 although those numbers are in dispute ,some say up to 500 were killed. As of this post this outage has caused a loss of 2.5 billion hours of electricity supply making it the largest black out in U.S History. Lowest pressure of the big three upon passage St Croix 910 MB.
So now that we have a general idea of what happened in these affected areas let me state that there are not enough words to adequately describe how much these three hurricanes impacted peoples lives. The common sense answer would be all three are equal in how bad they were, but for arguments sake I will take a shot at which was the worst.
#1 worst Even though Hurricane Irma scored the most highs amongst the three according to the chart above I cannot escape the thought of having the majority of the power grid off line for nearly 2 months as is the case in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria. Dominica and St Croix also have gone for an extended period of time with limited electricty or potable water. All three of these areas will be lucky if the vast majority of residents have all services back up by Christmas. Even cell connectivity is limited in many areas,talk about frustration. Based on between 700,000 & 800,000 housing units not having basic needs makes Hurricane Maria the worst.
2nd worst Maria was known mainly for wind destruction but Hurricane Harvey was known more for flooding in so many areas it’s hard to imagine. Harvey was also a wind machine at landfall in Texas destroying many structures. Harvey took 84 lives mainly due to flooding after it lost hurricane status. Up to 15,500 homes were destroyed with estimates of over 200,000 damaged in the entire impacted area from South Texas to Louisiana. Even though less people were impacted by Hurricane Harvey than Irma the amount of time people have had to deal with re construction and mental anguish puts Hurricane harvey at #2.
3rd worst Even though Hurricane Irma impacted more people probably than the other two combined you can only look at the amount of time the majority of the over 25 million had utilities. The majority of outages in Florida were restored within 1 week and the total 8.7 million that lost power in the S.E United States was 99% restored within 14 days. There were some outages with cell towers but within a week most of that was restored. There was heavy damage in the Florida Keys but they are far better off than the Maria stricken areas. Unfortunately areas of Cuba,Virgin Islands (also impacted by Maria) and the N.E Lesser Antilles especially the island of Barbuda may take years to recover but population wise much less than Maria. Had the peninsula of Florida been hit by the same Irma that hit Cuba and the Lesser Antilles it probably would have been #1.