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This Map Shows How an Overheated Ocean Made Irma a Monster

Warming has fueled one of the most powerful Atlantic storms to threaten the United States in recorded history.

Fueling the Storm

Warm oceans can intensify hurricanes, which

scientists believe thrive when sea surface tem

peratures are above 82 degrees Fahrenheit. As

Hurricane Irma approaches the United States,

warmer waters will provide more energy to fuel

the storm.

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

Category 5

(157 mph winds or higher)

Category 4

(130-156 mph winds)

Sea surface temperature on Sept. 7, 2017

(Fahrenheit)

76.6

87.4

82.0

United

States

As of Sept. 8, 2017, there is about

a 66 percent chance Hurricane

Irma will move through this area

by Sept. 13, 2017.

FLA.

Atlantic

Ocean

Bahamas

Sept. 7, 2017

Cuba

Haiti

Dom.

Rep.

Jamaica

Puerto

Rico

(U.S.)

Caribbean Sea

Virgin

Islands

(U.S.)

Fueling the Storm

Warm oceans can intensify hurricanes, which scientists believe thrive when sea surface

temperatures are above 82 degrees Fahrenheit. As Hurricane Irma approaches the

United States, warmer waters will provide more energy to fuel the storm.

United

States

Tennessee

North

Carolina

Ala.

S.C.

Miss.

Georgia

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane

Wind Scale

Category 5

(157 mph winds or higher)

Atlantic

Ocean

Category 4

(130-156 mph winds)

As of Sept. 8, 2017, there

is about a 66 percent

chance Hurricane Irma

will move through this

area by Sept. 13, 2017.

Florida

Sea surface temperature

on Sept. 7, 2017

(Fahrenheit)

Gulf of Mexico

Bahamas

76.6

82.0

87.4

Sept. 7, 2017

Cuba

Mexico

Haiti

Dom.

Rep.

Jamaica

Puerto

Rico

(U.S.)

Virgin

Islands

(U.S.)

Caribbean Sea

LAUREN C. TIERNEY, NG STAFF

SOURCES: NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER; NOAA


Like Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Irma lost strength as it lashed the Caribbean—but could regain its force before reaching Florida. Andrew weakened before making landfall in the Bahamas but then rapidly regained Category 5 status before it struck just south of Homestead, Florida.

This map shows where Irma will pass through warmer waters before making landfall. Warm water fuels the updrafts that lower barometric pressure inside the storm, creating stronger winds.