As residents of Florida and other East Coast states watch powerful Hurricane Irma blow through their cities, islands in the Caribbean are already dealing with the storm's aftermath. Irma pummelled islands like Antigua, Barbuda, Cuba, and the Bahamas last week, leaving widespread destruction among the Caribbean nations. It wasn't just damage to buildings and streets, though, as one Hurricane Irma update from the Bahamas showed a unique natural phenomenon that damaged the Bahamas' beaches.
As Hurricane Irma passed over the Bahamas, it appeared to take much of the country's coastal water with it. Social media users over the weekend shared photos and videos of dry beaches where the Caribbean's signature clear, blue water had previously been. The images showed docks and sand dunes surrounded by a desert of dry coastline.
Such a result isn't unheard of after a strong storm passes by. In fact, the dried-up beaches could be a sign that Irma strengthened as it passed over the Bahamas. Hurricanes tend to suck warm ocean water up into their systems. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, warm ocean water helps the storms grow even more powerful. On Sunday, the sea temperature in Nassau, the Bahamas' capital, was a balmy 85 degrees Fahrenheit, suggesting that the water temperature in recent days was likely warm enough to give Irma a boost.
Irma, in fact, did fluctuate between a Category 4 and Category 5 storm as it passed through the Caribbean. Even as the main storm system made its way to Florida on Sunday, the Caribbean islands in its path continued to feel the effects. According to The Weather Channel, Irma's massive system hit the Florida Keys on Sunday morning as a Category 4 storm, as its outer bands still reached Cuba and the Bahamas.
Just as warm ocean water is expected to strengthen hurricanes, large land masses tend to weaken them. The Caribbean islands tend to form a barrier around the southeastern U.S., but Irma has taken a unique path, making little direct contact with land, according to Vox. Islands like Cuba and the Bahamas suffered the devastating effects of Irma, but they didn't break up the storm. If anything, it seems like Florida will bear the force of Irma's direct hit, perhaps weakening the storm to the benefit of cities and states located further inland.
Clearly, the beach wasn't the only part of the Bahamas and other Caribbean islands to suffer damage. Irma caused widespread damage of infrastructure, as photos of flooded streets and damaged buildings circulated along with the photos of dried-up beaches. According to the BBC, Irma caused more than $10 billion in damage throughout the Caribbean.
Particularly devastated was the island of Barbuda. Together with Antigua, Barbuba forms the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, home to more than 94,000 people. Most of the population lives on the island of Antigua, which was relatively spared from damage, according to the BBC. Barbuda, however, was declared "barely habitable" by the country's prime minister, as 95 percent of its buildings were damaged. Shortly after Hurricane Irma left, Antigua and Barbuda also felt the effects of Hurricane Jose, a Category 4 storm following shortly behind Irma. Jose was expected to avoid the U.S.
From dried beaches to flooded streets, Irma left an unmistakable mark on the Caribbean. In the U.S., all eyes remain on Florida, which faced a direct hit from the historic storm on Sunday. Still, it's important to remember the other countries in the powerful storm's path, as cleanup efforts from the Bahamas to Barbuda began over the weekend. For all in Irma's path, cleaning up won't be easy.