select search filters
roundups & rapid reactions
factsheets & briefing notes
before the headlines
Fiona fox's blog

expert reaction to Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm with winds of 185mph has hit the islands of the North East Carribbean and is heading towards the US mainland.


Dr Sally Brown, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Southampton, said:

“How much climate change is involved in these hurricanes and their impacts is uncertain and requires study. Repeated studies to date have indicated that small islands are likely to have high levels of vulnerability to extreme events, such as Hurricane Irma, and suffer most in the aftermath. Apart from the immediate damage, flooding can have long-term effects, such as on water resources, soil salinisation affecting crops, or longer term stress related health effects on the population.

“Due to their size, small islands can struggle to get back on their feet compared with mainland nations as they are very reliant on a few key infrastructure systems to connect to other nations and external help. Ensuring the safety of residents is key in the short term, but in the longer-term part of the clean up and help means supporting tourists operators to avoid secondary effects of reduced income, in which these islands and their population are very reliant upon.”


Dr James Baldini, Reader in Earth Sciences at Durham University, said:

“Just like one blizzard does not discount the reality of global warming, one extremely powerful hurricane does not define a trend towards more powerful storms. However, Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey fit within the long-term trend toward fewer but increasingly powerful hurricanes, a direct result of rising North Atlantic sea surface temperatures under global warming. It is worrying to consider that unless greenhouse gas emissions are actively curbed, these types of storms may represent the new ‘normal’ in the future.”


Prof. Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science at the University of Oxford, said:

“As yet another hurricane barrels into the Caribbean, with extreme precipitation and the impacts of storm surges both exacerbated by past greenhouse gas emissions, we must begin to ask ‘how long can we expect taxpayers and those in the path of the storms to foot the entire bill for the impacts of climate change?’

“In a paper published today in the journal Climatic Change, we show that nearly 30% of global sea level rise from 1880 to 2010 can be traced to products sold by just 90 large corporations. We need to start a conversation about whether it makes sense to exempt companies selling products that cause greenhouse gas emissions from all liability for the consequences of their use. As we found in 2008, giving companies unlimited license to make private profits while society underwrites the risk ends badly for everyone.”


Prof. Mike Lockwood FRS, Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading, said:

“The American hurricanes, Typhoon Hato and extreme monsoon floods in South-East Asia have demonstrated within one month just how puny humankind’s infrastructure is in the face of such hazards.  The precautionary principle must be applied – otherwise we could face the prospect of events that we have characterised as one-in-50-years or even rarer becoming the new normal and that will cost us dearly, in terms of money and resources and, most importantly, human suffering.”


Dr Adrian Champion, of the University of Exeter, said:

“The occurrence of two category five hurricanes in the same season hasn’t been known to happen since records began.

“It’s difficult to predict whether Irma will continue to strengthen – they get their energy from warm oceans and, given it’s already made landfall, you could expect it to weaken – but now it’s passing over the ocean again it could re-intensify.

“The question regarding whether Jose will develop into a category five hurricane is mixed. Given that Irma has just passed through, there isn’t as much ‘energy’ to intensify Jose. However, the conditions are similar.

“The climate change projections are that we’ll get fewer, but more intense, cyclones in the future.”


Dr Ilan Kelman, Reader in Risk Resilience and Global Health at University College London, said:

“As the scale of devastation from Hurricane Irma emerges, once post-disaster needs are met, we can ask about readiness. The islands which were hit knew they were in a hurricane zone and many run drills every year to be prepared for the hurricane season. In places, it appears to have saved lives. But we always want to strive to help everyone–and to be ready beforehand to reconstruct as soon as the storm has passed.”


Dr Chris Holloway, tropical storm expert at the University of Reading, said:

“Hurricane Irma is a potentially life-threatening storm for the Caribbean islands and neighbouring Leeward Islands due to winds up to 185 mph and storm surge up to 11 feet with large swells on top of this. The storm is likely to maintain very strong intensity (category 4 or 5) over the next three days, probably staying just north of the Greater Antilles but still a potential threat to Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. After that, the forecast track becomes more uncertain, with the storm likely affecting the Bahamas and Florida over the weekend.

“Since the storm will begin to turn more towards the north in about five days, but the exact timing of this turn is uncertain, all of the Florida peninsula, the Bahamas, Cuba, and the Carolinas and Georgia should be prepared for a possible landfall or other effects of a severe hurricane.  The main dangers with this storm are storm surge and damaging winds.

“For climate change, it’s important to note that climate change has already caused higher sea levels, so any storm surge is happening on top of a higher initial level, leading to more coastal flooding.  Also, climate change leads to increased rainfall for a storm of a given strength, leading to increased freshwater flooding.  Climate change also likely increases the probability of storms reaching an extremely high intensity.

“Irma is moving faster than Harvey, and has even stronger maximum winds that will affect a potentially larger region, so storm surge and wind damage are the primary risks.  Harvey moved very slowly and dumped rainfall over Texas for days, mostly as a much weaker tropical storm, so freshwater flooding caused most of the damage from Harvey.”


Dr Dann Mitchell, NERC Research Fellow at the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute, said:

“Hurricane Irma, following so closely after Tropical Storm Harvey and other extreme weather emergencies, has prompted questions about the role of climate change.  The question of whether climate change ’caused’ any particular weather event is the wrong one; instead, we must probe how climate change alters extreme weather.  Aside from the warming atmosphere, rising sea level and surface ocean warming have likely contributed to the impact of both Irma and Harvey. The details of these contributions will be examined by scientists in the coming months and years.

“These events also offer wider lessons on how prepared we are for a warmer future.  It is likely that rainfall events, in general, will become more extreme, as will heat waves and droughts. So events like Irma and Harvey also help us understand if we are prepared for them and who will be most affected. Increasingly, the evidence is clear that the poorest, being the most exposed to many climate risks and often being the least protected, will be most affected.  Addressing this inequality is at the heart of not just the climate change discussion but all discussions about how we become resilient to risk and hazards.”


Julian Heming, hurricane expert at the Met Office, said:

“Irma is one of the strongest hurricanes to have been recorded in the Atlantic. Already bringing extreme impacts to the northern end of the Lesser Antilles chain of islands, the system will move west-north-west affecting other island states. A hurricane of this magnitude will have impacts extending far from its centre, so it’s important for residents not to focus on the exact forecast track but to consider the system as a whole, as intense rainfall, flash floods, extreme winds and a life-threatening storm surge will severely affect communities over a wide area.

“Higher than average sea-surface temperatures are fuelling Hurricane Irma, giving additional energy and moisture.”


Declared interests

None declared

in this section

filter RoundUps by year

search by tag