Irma's Last-Minute Westward Shift May Have Saved Florida $150 Billion In Damages

As it traversed the state of Florida, Hurricane (now tropical depression) Irma left a trail of destruction not seen since Hurricane Andrew hammered the state in 1992. But despite the rising death toll, historic flooding and a ruined power grid that could take weeks to repair, meteorologists say Floridians should consider themselves fortunate.

Because it could’ve been much, much worse.

“We got very lucky,” Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan, told Bloomberg. If Irma had passed 20 miles west of Marco Island instead of striking it on Sunday, “the damage would have been astronomical.” A track like that would have allowed the storm’s powerful eye wall – typically the most destructive area of a hurricane – to ravage Florida’s Gulf Coast.

As Masters pointed out, the storm’s last-minute westward shift away from the biggest population center of sprawling Miami-Dade County caused damage estimates to drop to $50 billion Monday, down from $200 billion over the weekend.   

According to Bloomberg, the last-minute shift was caused by a wind pattern known as the Bermuda High.

“The credit goes to the Bermuda High, which acts like a sort of traffic cop for the tropical North Atlantic Ocean. The circular system hovering over Bermuda jostled Irma onto northern Cuba Saturday, where being over land sapped it of some power, and then around the tip of the Florida peninsula, cutting down on storm surge damage on both coasts of the state. ‘The Bermuda High is finite and it has an edge, which was right over Key West,’ Masters said. Irma caught the edge and turned north.”


For 10 days, computer-forecast models had struggled with how the Bermuda High might influence the direction of the storm, according to Peter Sousounis, director of meteorology at AIR Worldwide. “I have never watched a forecast more carefully than Irma. I was very surprised not by how one model was going back and forth - but by how all the models were going back and forth.”

Ultimately, Irma landed on the Florida Keys as a Category 4 hurricane with 130 mph winds, then as a Category 3 at Marco Island. It reached the Tampa Bay area as a Category 2. That’s compared with Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which plowed into the east side of Florida as a Category 5.

Even though the worst-case scenario was avoided, Irma may still supplant Andrew as the costliest storm to ever rattle the state.

“With Irma, little wobbles made a huge difference,” said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia. With a tightly-wound storm like Andrew coming straight into the state, “a 30-mile wobble isn’t going to matter.”

Still, when it comes to damage, “Irma may bump Andrew,” Watson said. The company’s most recent estimate is for $49.5 billion in Irma costs for Florida; Andrew’s were an inflation-adjusted $47.8 billion.”

Of course, Harvey experienced the exact opposite trend as it devastated the city of Houston and caused a “one-in-a-thousand-year” flood, prompting analysts to raise total damage estimates from around $20 billion before the storm made landfall to, in many cases, more than $100 billion today, as many analytics firms repeatedly upped the expected price tag.

AIR Worldwide, a Verisk Analytics risk modeler based in Boston that was cited by Bloomberg, said Harvey’s price tag for Hurricane Harvey, which struck southeastern Texas on Aug. 25, could end up between $65 billion to $75 billion.

The top spots at the moment are held by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, at $160 billion, and 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, at $70.2 billion, according to a list compiled by the US National Centers for Environmental Information.

And while many on the left have said that this year’s hurricane season has been supercharged by climate change – a sign that the feared “climate catastrophe” will arrive sooner than scientists expect – Bloomberg notes that many historical storms matched their modern peers on the scale of sheer power.

“Those are modern storms. Simulations based on the paths and powers of some that rammed the U.S. 100 or more years ago show they were far more disastrous, or would be if they arrived today when the population is much more dense and there is far more, and far more expensive, property to destroy.


One hurricane that raked the U.S. East Coast in 1893 was so furious the impact could have added up to $1 trillion. ‘They haven’t really happened in our modern economy,’ Watson said, adding it’s only a matter of time. ‘We have so much stuff and so much infrastructure. Leave all the arguments about climate change aside; we are rapidly moving into that era where we are going to be seeing $50 billion, $100 billion storms, and I will not be surprised when we get to $300 billion.’”

Of course, the next question on meteorologists’ minds is whether Hurricane Jose will pass harmlessly out to sea – as computer models seem to suggest – or possibly turn northward to slam Cape Cod. But as Bloomberg notes, we won’t know the answer to that question for at least another week.


moorewasthebestbond (not verified) Tue, 09/12/2017 - 15:41 Permalink

First Bitchez! From "Catastrophe" to "Could Have Been" in just a few sensationalized days.

I Quit Manthong Tue, 09/12/2017 - 16:11 Permalink

Here in Clearwater Florida, we had major wind but no flooding. Not a tremendous amount of damage I have seen.  several trees blown down, a few mobile homes roofs curled up. Our power was off for 36 hours. Just came back up and my first pace to look for news was ZH.  I did, before the storm want to get a generator, but my husband wasn't on board. I told him my biggest fear would be the power being out for a couple days or longer. Well, we just ordered a generator. I can handle wind and rain, but not having my refrigerator sucked.   I knew we wouldn't get a "hurricane" and the second it made it's turn, not sure how that happened?????? conspiracy theory ??????? or Jet Stream????  It was way to close to land not to hit it sooner rather than later. But you could hear the disappointment in the news guys voice and see it on their faces how disappointed they were this thing didn't run up the whole state. Lying media 98% chance Clinton would win.

In reply to by Manthong

Swampster (not verified) dfwpike Tue, 09/12/2017 - 15:59 Permalink

So none of the 59 models factored in the Bermuda High? a known weather pattern and hurricane steering mechanism? It just popped up out of nowhere, did it? The 'nazi jew media hypoed this storm for some reason, now the 'nazi jew media is trying to wipe egg (and Obama's man chowder) from their faces....

In reply to by dfwpike

smacker Still Losing Money Wed, 09/13/2017 - 06:15 Permalink

"nothing wrong with forecasting/warning people/storm prep"Well, that's pretty much what they did. Where's the line between forecasting and warning people of the ((potential)) risks and consequences -vs- overhyping? I'm sure I don't know.I believe there was a genuine view that Irma was gonna turn right up the East coast (hitting Miami) whereas it actually went a little further West and turned right up the West coast (hitting Naples). And then veered away from Tampa.

In reply to by Still Losing Money

Ben A Drill Tue, 09/12/2017 - 15:46 Permalink

So if most people have less than say $1000.00 in savings and they just lost everything but the clothes on their back. Will probably be out of work for more than a week. With no place to live, maybe even lost their car and have very little insurance if any at all.

How is this a bullish thing for the economy again?

ipso_facto Ben A Drill Tue, 09/12/2017 - 16:04 Permalink

'With no place to live, maybe even lost their car and have very little insurance if any at all.How is this a bullish thing for the economy again?'Because they have to BORROW large sums and immediately spend the money.  Will only offset the 'losses' to GDP marginally but the 'losses' will remain with the residents for quite a while.  (Must be strange to suddenly have no trees.)

In reply to by Ben A Drill

rejected Tue, 09/12/2017 - 15:47 Permalink

All those east Florida evacuees are here in west Florida mucking everything up. Buying everything they see, got the interstate speed down to a crawl.

David Wooten Tue, 09/12/2017 - 15:47 Permalink

Last minute shift? That's BS.  I monitored the 'cone' on NHC several times each day and there was never much chance of it hitting Miami.  Those saps who heeded the governor's advice to evacuate sat in traffic all day while Miami was being looted - all for nothing.This should serve as a lesson - ignore the hype.

Sanity Bear David Wooten Tue, 09/12/2017 - 20:24 Permalink

Even if you could wait this out in Miami, it's not going to be a whole lot of fun with the city flooded out. Anything stolen will be paid for by insurance which will be paid for by tax slaves, and you can't do anything about that any more than you can the hurricane.

Best thing to have done was get out of Dodge before the crowd, take a vacation and the opportunity to visit friends in other parts of the country.

In reply to by David Wooten

smacker Tue, 09/12/2017 - 15:53 Permalink

Article: "And while many on the left have said that this year’s hurricane season has been supercharged by climate change – a sign that the feared “climate catastrophe” will arrive sooner than scientists expect – Bloomberg notes that many historical storms matched their modern peers on the scale of sheer power."Yeahbut, we're not supposed to mention such things 'cos it triggers the climate change fanclub.

naughtmostel Tue, 09/12/2017 - 15:53 Permalink

The European model predicted Naples and Sarasota last Thursday.  You are inept and untradeable.  Quit your job.  There should be plenty of opportunities building homes in the Florida Keys, Naples and Houston.  Zerohedge is becoming as unbelievable as 9/11 commission.  

Sanity Bear naughtmostel Tue, 09/12/2017 - 20:41 Permalink

> The European model predicted Naples and Sarasota last Thursday.

It also predicted the storm would then go directly north into Savannah/Charleston instead of northwest into Alabama as it actually did. Getting one data point (point of landing) correct on one day while getting the other data points wrong and the point of landing wrong on other days, leaves one with a model of limited use (as are all the models).

NOAA flacks are presently bragging about a spot-on prediction 6 days out. Except afterwards they ended up changing the good prediction to bad ones and stuck with the bad ones.

You're doing basically the same thing with respect to the Euro model. Is it more successful than the others? Well, it has a fair claim to be the best of them, or among the best. Sure. But this is monkeys at a dartboard level accuracy we're talking about. Educated guesses they may be, but they are wild, low-probability guesses. If you depend on them to be accurate, you will be wrong a lot more than you will be right.

> You are inept and untradeable. Quit your job.

In reply to by naughtmostel

adr Tue, 09/12/2017 - 15:58 Permalink

Irma never hit the Keys with 130mph winds. The sustained winds were 115-120mph. It just so happens that 130 is the minimum to be classified as a Cat4 and the media was going to call it a Cat4 even if it hit with 75mph winds because they promised a monster hurricane. By the time the storm hit Tampa it was barely hanging on to Cat1 status. If you followed the actual reports of the storm you knew it was going to pass west of Miami and lose intensity. The pressure wasn't low enough to reach above a Class3 and Cuba shredded the eye wall.

historian40 Tue, 09/12/2017 - 16:31 Permalink

The government should not be able to FORCE you from your home because of rumors from those who claim to be able to predict weather.I feel bad for those that were FORCED to leave their homes, only to discover it was for nothing, and when they return, they find their property stolen.  They should be able to sue those who FORCED them to leave, if nothing else.

junkyard dog Tue, 09/12/2017 - 18:33 Permalink

Bermuda high my caboose. Some fruit cake from Michigan spouting BS just for an article. It was a subtropical ridge you DH. It had to do with the tide at the moment dumbf. It had to do with wind sheer you jack wagon. It had to do with an upper trough you numb nut. Watching a hurricane for 2.5 weeks is like watching a professional sporting event. Nothing happens until 5 minutes before the end of regulation play. A lot of people got it in the ass because they listened to idiots like you. Any fool who has lived in Florida for the past 50 years will tell you, no hurricane can survive more than 150 miles into Florida. Stop making excuses why you were so wrong.

Burticus Tue, 09/12/2017 - 21:50 Permalink

The eastward shift may have saved my sailboat!After seeing the forecasted track line exactly over our marina in Tampa Bay, we spent several days stripping our 42 foot sailing yacht nekkid of sails and everything else, then running multiple lines from every direction to fixed docks, short enough to keep boat off the poles but long enough to allow for storm surge. I went to the marina Sunday morning, just before SHTF, and the mud/grass flats were exposed for a quarter mile out because the NE wind had blown the water out of the bay.  Boat was so low in the water that I would have needed an 8 foot ladder to get down to it.  Keel was probably resting on the sand bottom.  Fortunately, lines set for 4-6 foot storm surge worked for the negative 3-4 foot storm surge out.  NE wind got up to 60 mph, so I expect even more water got blown out after I left. I went back to the marina at dark thirty Monday morning and boat looked fine, not a scratch.  The SW wind was blowing boat away from the dock so hard I couldn't pull it close enough by myself to board.  I was barely able to pull a line in far enough for another wrap to keep the stern off a pole. There were no boats sunk or major damage visible, but there were many lines broken, cleats and rails torn off, clocked rails/hulls, etc.  The wind partly unfurled a 45 foot Hunter sailboat's jib, which then flapped itself to tatters.  Ours, of course, had been removed, less than an hour's work.  Usual minor damage and tree parts observed on the drive to/from the marina. Compound is on high ground and pretty much impregnable, though we did board up, since plywood boards were already cut (unused since Charley in 2004).  No damage except tree branches littering yard.  We spent yesterday cleaning up the aftermath.  We never lost electric, of course, since we had both diesel and gas generators...