Hurricane Irma is now a Category 5 hurricane with winds of 185 miles per hour pummeling islands in the Caribbean as it heads west toward the US coast. It’s one of the strongest hurricanes to ever rip across the Atlantic Ocean and is the first Atlantic hurricane on record to sustain winds of more than 180 mph for more than 24 hours.
Winds this strong are hard to imagine, but they can easily topple a “high percentage” of framed homes, causing the area to be “uninhabitable for weeks or months,” according to the National Hurricane Center.
Here’s a stunning animation put together by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s COMET Program that shows the intensity of winds from a Category 1 hurricane all the way up to a Category 5.
As Vox’s Brian Resnick has pointed out, the greatest threat to loss of life in most hurricanes is not the wind, but rather storm surge and coastal flooding.
On Wednesday, Irma made landfall on the northeastern Caribbean Islands, causing severe damage on the islands of St. Barthélemy, St. Martin, and Barbuda.
Irma comes only a week after Hurricane Harvey dumped 27 trillion gallons of water on Texas and Louisiana, destroying 30,000 to 40,000 homes and killing at least 46 people. The damage caused by Harvey is expected to exceed Katrina’s $160 billion price tag for recovery.
While the exact forecast of Irma will change in the next few days, it’s clear the threat posed by Irma is catastrophic. Local officials in the Florida Keys have already called for mandatory evacuations, and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez warned residents that evacuation orders may soon be necessary. President Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency in Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico due to Irma.