The United States is bracing for the impact of a second catastrophic hurricane to hit the country in less than a month. The storm is predicted to make landfall in southern Florida in the early hours of Saturday, an eerie repetition of two weeks ago when Americans watched Hurricane Harvey submerge the Texas Gulf Coast. Now nature has taken aim at Florida and the Eastern seaboard, with additional impact in the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Irma will hit Alabama, and the storm could inflict similar damage as Hurricane Harvey did.
The latest National Hurricane Center prediction shows Hurricane Irma traveling up the length of the Florida peninsula on Saturday and Sunday, then turing westward to cover most of the state of Alabama and moving north toward Tennessee. The storm is expected to make landfall as a Category 4, even more powerful than Harvey's Category 3.
The National Weather Service sent an exceptionally alarming tweet Friday afternoon urging south Florida residents to evacuate: "Nowhere in the Keys will be safe." NBC News reported that the hurricane is so powerful that it could wash away entire skyscrapers in Miami — the state may be entirely different tomorrow, and then it's Alabama's turn.
By 2 a.m. Tuesday morning, Irma is expected to be centered in northeastern Georgia, just a few miles away from the Alabama border. CNN reports that Irma is approximately 300 miles across in diameter, while Alabama's horizontal width is listed at 198 miles (and likely even wider at some points). The storm is going to physically cover most of the state at some point in the next week, and be in several other states at the same time. There's a chance that it could be significantly weaker after using up much of its power in Florida, but Alabama residents should still be prepared for catastrophic damage.
The parts of Alabama that Irma isn't directly going to hit may still be in danger too. Irma is physically huge in size — the storm spans more than the width of the Florida peninsula. Alabama has a small bit of coastline that's therefore susceptible to major damage when Irma hits due to storm surge. The Gulf of Mexico side is supposed to be less affected by of Irma, but as previously mentioned, the hurricane is so big that it'll be storming on both sides of the ocean. According to The Weather Channel, the larger the storm, the larger the storm surge, which means this is exactly the type of storm that could devastate coastal Alabama.
Irma has already devastated several Caribbean islands in its path toward Florida, further escalating fears of the potential destruction in the United States. Authorities estimate that as much as 95 percent of Barbuda is destroyed or damaged. Puerto Rico's recent financial crisis put its power grid at risk for damage and now nearly a million people may be out of power for three to four months. At least 11 people are dead on St. Martin and St. Barts, and the entirety of the former island was without communication for several hours at the peak of the storm.
Like many of the other places that have been affected by natural disasters recently, Alabama will need outside help to fully recover from this storm. The state ranked fourth poorest in the nation in 2016 according to The Huffington Post, and there are many intersectionally disadvantaged communities that will need support getting back on their feet.
It's an exhausting feeling to go through so soon after the last major natural disaster, but the nation has to come together to get everyone through it. The American people are being tested and its up to everyone to rise to the challenge.