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A $150 Billion Misfire: How Disaster Models Got Irma Wrong

Hurricane Joaquin

Brian K Sullivan
@WeatherSullivanMore stories by Brian K Sullivan
‎September‎ ‎11‎, ‎2017‎ ‎7‎:‎50‎ ‎PM‎ ‎EDT ‎September‎ ‎12‎, ‎2017‎ ‎1‎:‎10‎ ‎PM‎ ‎EDT

Bermuda High kept Irma from becoming the costliest U.S. storm
Westward shift and weakening checked ‘astronomical’ damage

Twenty miles may have made a $150 billion difference.

Estimates for the damage Hurricane Irma would inflict on Florida kept mounting as it made its devastating sweep across the Caribbean. It was poised to be the costliest U.S. storm on record. Then something called the Bermuda High intervened and tripped it up.

“We got very lucky,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 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 placed the powerful, eastern eye wall of Irma on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

By one estimate, the total cost dropped to about $50 billion Monday from $200 billion over the weekend. The state escaped the worst because Irma’s eye shifted away from the biggest population center of Miami-Dade County.

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