What If a Large, Slow-Moving, Category 5 Hurricane Hit Florida?

Updated on November 6, 2017
Ivan Hernandez profile image

Erick Hernandez is an expert in writing meteorology articles. He is an autistic young adult with a high school diploma.

1988's Hurricane Gilbert. It devastated the Caribbean with 185 winds and a pressure of 888 millibars. Imagine if a bigger version of that storm were to make landfall in Florida and slow down?
1988's Hurricane Gilbert. It devastated the Caribbean with 185 winds and a pressure of 888 millibars. Imagine if a bigger version of that storm were to make landfall in Florida and slow down? | Source

Florida's Worst Case Scenario

Imagine taking some of Earth's biggest, baddest, and strongest Tropical Cyclones, like Patricia, Haiyan, Wilma, Ivan, Andrew and the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, and putting them into Florida, and then slowing them down and expanding them greatly. This is what could happen to Florida if a Slow-Moving Category 5 Hurricane with winds in excess of 200 mph and a barometric pressure of 879 millibars was unleashed upon the Sunshine State. Rainfall records would be shattered all across the state, and thousands of people would die in what would be described as the worst disaster to ever hit the Sunshine State. Economic losses would be in the trillions of dollars.

All of Florida would be virtually inaccessible due to the cataclysmic flooding. In some cases, more than 180 inches of rain would fall in every part of the state. This is a what-if scenario, a potential catastrophic scenario, and you will get first-hand accounts on how cataclysmic this disaster will be.

Words that come to mind when we hear the word "Hurricane"

When we hear the word "Hurricane" we often hear about storm surge, wind, and destruction. The second most important word to know, outside of the words that I just mentioned to you, is flooding. It occurred during 2001's Allison in Texas, when Northeastern Houston saw 37 inches of rain in 5 days.

More extreme events include 1978's hurricane Amelia (it occurred over a very small area in central Texas, where 48 inches of rain fell), and 2017's Hurricane Harvey, where a record-shattering 51.88 inches of rain fell in 3 or 4 days over Houston's Cedar Creek. Some areas of Houston remained underwater for weeks, and as of September 11, 2017, are still underwater

Below, you will see images of the extensive flooding in Houston during Harvey, where 28 inches of rain fell in the city proper in 48 hours.

Cars Submerged in 2 feet of Harvey's floodwaters.

Here is a series of submerged vehicles sitting in a dealership on August 29 during one of the most catastrophic floods in Houston's history brought on by Harvey's outer rainbands.
Here is a series of submerged vehicles sitting in a dealership on August 29 during one of the most catastrophic floods in Houston's history brought on by Harvey's outer rainbands. | Source
Here's an image of a house submerged up to the top of the first floor. Some people's houses were submerged up to the bottom of the second floor due to the floods.
Here's an image of a house submerged up to the top of the first floor. Some people's houses were submerged up to the bottom of the second floor due to the floods. | Source

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

During Hurricane Harvey, I contacted the National Weather Service in Houston, and I ordered them to issue a PDS (Particularly Dangerous Situation) Flash Flood Watch for the likelihood of 20-25 inches of rain over the area. They didn't listen, of course, because they put out a Flash Flood Watch (No PDS) for Houston. The second time I told them that, they didn't listen. When the flooding happened, I took to twitter and aired my grievances to Houston. I predicted 70 inches of rain in one area. I guess I overestimated my prediction.

Houstonians gravely underestimated Harvey's potential. Saturday night in the overnight hours, nearly 14 inches of rain fell in only 3 hours. Harvey kept us on high alert. The whole United States, and the world, was watching as Harvey dumped extreme to catastrophic rainfall in parts of Harris County. As Harvey dissipated, Irma began to organize. Living in Norland, FL, I was very worried. Nine days before Irma struck Florida, I was predicting something striking Florida.

What I didn't know was how severe until 3 days until affecting Florida. When I saw that the entire Florida Peninsula was under a Hurricane Warning, I thought that the entire Florida Peninsula was going to basically be destroyed. We remained under a Hurricane Warning for almost 68 hours. When Hurricane Irma basically curved North from Cuba, South Florida Started experiencing Hurricane Force winds. Even Norland, which is over 120 miles east of the large hurricane. experienced a few wind gusts of 90 mph and rainfall in excess of 6 inches.

When Hurricane Irma started affecting us with rain, it was 2:00 PM. We experienced a heavy rain squall at around 5:30 PM that lasted almost 30 minutes. During that time, we experienced more than 3 inches of rain. We experienced tropical storm force winds at 3:00 AM on September 10, 2017, with hurricane force wind gusts affecting us at 12:30 PM, more than 1 hour after we lost power. In the days leading up to Irma, Governor Rick Scott issued a State of Emergency for all 67 counties in Florida, the second time he's done so since the 2016 season.

Volunteers Rescuing Harvey Victims.

Harvey's Superfloods in Houston

Harvey's impact on Florida

I think Hurricane Harvey may have saved Florida from another Huge Disaster because we were all watching when Hurricane Harvey mane landfall and when Harvey decimated Houston with over 25-40+ inches of rainfall. I think Harvey taught us all a lesson about not underestimating the power of a Hurricane, especially when you're over 100 miles from any hurricane, as was the case with Irma.

What Could've Happened if Harvey's rains were placed all over Southern Florida.

You've got to keep in mind that South Florida is at a very low elevation. Much of the area sits at or just under 10 feet above sea level. Much of the area, if it experienced 51.88 inches of rain, would be under 7 feet of water as far as 12 miles inland. My area would be in 3 feet of water if that happened.

A disclaimer to Floridians

This is what could happen if a Category 5 hurricane with Harvey's potential rains, Sandy's potential size, and Katrina's potential destruction, were to come to Florida. This is the worst-case scenario for storms.

Hypothetical Scenario: Slow-moving Large Category 5 Hurricane Over Florida: The Beginning

On Thursday, August 27, a small area of thunderstorms develops in the main development region at 13.9 N and 27.2 W. the storm develops into a Tropical Depression and the National Hurricane Center names it Iran soon after. Heading in the general direction of the trade winds, Iran stays to the South of 15 N until around 40 W, when Iran develops into a hurricane, with 75 mph winds and an abnormally low pressure of 968 millibars.

The system then intensifies to a 150 mph storm in just 18 hours, and the pressure drops to an incredible 897 millibars. The storm then heads straight for the Northern Leeward Islands, and strengthens into a 195 mph storm. The storm achieves a primary peak of 200 mph while east of Barbados. The storm makes landfall as a 410-mile wide hurricane with winds clocked at 195 mph. Going in he same direction that Irma headed, he made a second landfall in the British Virgin Islands as a 190 mph storm.

Puerto Rico issues a Hurricane Warning for the entire commonwealth. The eye passes 100 miles North of Puerto Rico as a dangerous Category 5 with winds of 190 mph. The National Hurricane Center issues their advisory, and it shows Iran heading towards Florida. This prompts the Governor of Florida to issue a state of emergency on all 67 counties.

Meanwhile Iran continues to expand in size, from 410 miles to 580 miles. The storm also heads towards 93-degree waters, strengthening the hurricane into a monster with winds of 235 mph and a hurricane diameter of 320 miles. As it approached South Florida, all of South Florida issued a hurricane watch, and then a warning soon after. They even issue a storm surge warning after the watch. Then, when the hurricane slowed down, they issue a Particularly Dangerous Situation Flash Flood Watch for everyone in Florida


Hypothetical Scenario: Slow-moving Large Category 5 Hurricane Over Florida: The Storm

When Iran's tropical storm winds reach Miami, the heavy rain bands produce heavy rainfall on the order of 3 to 4 inches of rain per hour. As Iran moves closer, the winds get more fierce, and storm surge starts to move into Key Biscayne and Miami. All Across Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the surge gets higher. In some cases, the surge is over 20 feet, and the hurricane's eye is well over 300 miles from the center of Miami. Then, at 8:00 PM on September 8, while the hurricane is over 200 miles east of Miami, steering currents become weak, and the storm moves erratically.

In the 12 hours since the storm's onset, Miami receives more than 25 inches of rain, flooding parts of Biscayne Avenue under 3 more feet of the 24 feet of storm water. Locations as far west as Naples are not spared of Iran's effects, as over 26 inches of rain falls in just 12 hours, and wind gusts up to 90 mph bombard the area. The hurricane continues its erratic path for 48 more hours, dumping, in isolated spots, more than 100 inches of rain in Eastern and Central Miami-Dade County. Then, the storm moves westward at 5 mph and makes landfall in Miami Beach as a cataclysmic 195 mph hurricane at 2:05 AM on September 12.

The storm then gets pulled Northwestward due to an approaching trough of low pressure in Minnesota, albeit very slowly, and makes a second landfall south of Oleta Park as a cataclysmic 190 mph hurricane. As the storm very slowly pulls away to the northwest, and then to the north, the storm interacts with the front and grows into a Sandy-sized storm, with Tropical Storm force winds extending out over 1,500 miles, and Hurricane force winds extending over 525 miles. The storm pulls Northward at 10 mph, weakening very slowly as it does so. Due to cold seclusion, the storm begins to behave like a hybrid between a subtropical and a tropical system. The dry air finally reaches Florida's West Coast, but the rainfall in enhanced along Florida's east coast.

As the storm moves North, it weakens to a Category 4 just north of Orlando, then weakens to a Category 3 just North of Jacksonville.

Hypothetical Scenario: Slow-Moving Category 5 Hurricane In Florida: The Aftermath

Finally, 230 inches of rain and almost 7 days later, the storm finally moves out of Miami. What is left is destruction. When Iran made landfall, the storm surge peaked at 42 feet, and the pressure bottomed out at 886 millibars. The level of destruction is complete. As many as 60,000 people in Miami-Dade county dies during the hurricane. Estimated Damages put the hurricane at between $170 and $570 billion dollars. It will take many decades to recover from the storm. The Governor of Florida also dies during the storm, as he was in his riverfront property in the Miami River. Lake Okeechobee also overflows during this catastrophic hurricane, inundating several neighborhoods in several feet of flood water. Statewide, more than 1.7 million people die.

The storm surge extended 17 miles inland, and as many as 3,000 people drowned during the hurricane. The aftermath is much worse, with floodwaters not receding for several months, killing over 2% of Florida's population. The President of the United States calls this event a biblical catastrophe, and FEMA is pushed to its limits. The final damages, when calculated years after the storm, is in the trillions of dollars. The total death count may be in the millions. This will truly be a biblical storm.

Why Hurricanes Harvey And Irma Were Catastrophic?

The globe has been warming since the Industrial Revolution. In the 1900s, there were more intense and catastrophic hurricanes, then the hurricane activity died down, but ever since 1995, we've been in the active phase of the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation. 2005 was thought to be the most destructive hurricane season on record, but 2017 changed all that when Harvey and Irma came. Now Maria is next to cause destruction.

My Experience With Irma.

Honestly, I have never experienced something like Irma before. She was slow to come, and she was also very moisture-rich. She hung around for more than 24 hours with tropical storm force winds or higher. I experienced Katrina and Wilma in Florida, but I was much further south back then, and they weren't as bad as Irma.

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    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 7 days ago from Orlando Florida

      I read this article carefully because I live in Florida (Orlando area). I was lucky this time and had very little damage. I know the "Big One" is coming. Hurricanes, tornadoes, fires--it is happening everywhere, Global warming is real!!! The United States is the only country in the world not to be part of the Paris Accord to reduce global warming.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 months ago from the short journey

      Yes, many were without power, some flooding, which was minor for most by comparison, a very few were killed, but maybe not so much as a direct result of the storm. Relatives and friends throughout every region of Florida did very well compared to the predictions of devastation. The worst damage for all of them was downed trees and inconvenience of power outages. One even lives a mile from the ocean. We were very thankful!

      Yes, there is a lot of damage, but some good discussions are developing on the issues. I heard an interview in which a man was stating very good reasons for FEMA to stop giving money to people who plan to rebuild within a mile of the coastline and he made very good sense.

    • Ivan Hernandez profile image
      Author

      Erick Hernandez 3 months ago from Maintaining The Ivan Brand in Total Nonstop Ivan

      Thank you. I'm glad that your experience with Donna served as an experience factor. Do you live in an area affected by Irma?

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 months ago from the short journey

      Yes, I did read your post, but I do disagree that luck had anything to do with it. I am thankful that you are safe and that your worst fears did not come to pass.

    • Ivan Hernandez profile image
      Author

      Erick Hernandez 3 months ago from Maintaining The Ivan Brand in Total Nonstop Ivan

      I remember when the National Hurricane Center's forecast Track for Irma called for the center to pass inside Miami. I was quite scared. All of Florida was inside the cone for what seemed like days. I've never experienced a storm quite like Irma. Although Irma was over 140 miles west of Norland, Miami Gardens, FL, we still experienced hurricane-force wind gusts.

      Like I said, the difference between 2017 and 2005 was just the sheer destruction that the season caused. Harvey was the most destructive because of the cataclysmic flooding in Houston. I watched as Houston flooded, and I took to social media to air out my frustrations. I called the Houston National Weather Service and told them to issue a Particularly Dangerous Situation (PDS) Flash Flood Watch for Saturday all the way through Thursday for the likelihood of more than 30 inches of rain (which, at the time, was the low end) and more than 45 inches of rain (which, at the time, was at the high-end).

      Irma came to Florida, and I thought that I was going to receive the full brunt of a category 4 hurricane. Luckily, we received only Category 1 and Category 2 wind gusts.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 months ago from the short journey

      As a little child my family, our neighborhood, community, and state of Florida endured the effects of hurricane Donna, 1960. It is a miracle that only 50 people died in the USA, though it's always difficult to get an accurate death count with these events because many people, for various reasons, live under the radar along the coastline.

      Donna's damage required huge cleanups and rebuilding projects, but much was learned from the event. A lot could be said about that, but look at Florida today. People picked up and moved forward with the times. So I say again, look at Florida now!

      Irma is being compared to Donna, but of course that comparison needs to factor in all the changes of the times such as how different building codes are now. It must also include, however, that people decided it was okay to construct more buildings closer and closer to the water and throughout lowlands known for flooding.

      True Floridians (and I suspect Texans) will tell you that their history proves that living well there means living with the knowledge that it is hurricane territory and that hurricanes are always unpredictable because we do not have a long enough record of them to determine a pattern, if there is one.

      As sad and difficult as their effects are, catastrophic events are nothing new. Living in areas that are prone to them and expecting a different result from a catastrophe is rather ignorant (which people are prone to be, which is curious considering our tendency to arrogance) whether people are educated or uneducated, rich or poor. But experience is a good teacher.

      That said, many people look at these events from a Biblical world-view. We are told by the Creator to expect these things and to prepare for them. It is explained that creation groans under the weight of the fall and awaits a new day. Sadder than all the catastrophic events together is that so many reject the joy and peace of embracing the Biblical world-view that looks past time and into eternity.

      Since lifespans are quite short, "...all people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall...", and eternity is quite long (if we try to think of it in terms of time), it is a great mercy that we have been given knowledge about our Creator and His plan (see Ephesians 1 in an NASB and prayerfully study the chapter in a good commentary such as a Matthew Henry).

      Irma was expected by many to be far more devastating than it was, but many Christians were praying for mercy for all in its path, help for first responders, and more, and it does appear that much mercy was granted to the majority.

      Helping victims, grieving with those who have lost loved ones, working to help protect resources intended for rebuilding are all import, but the real question now is whether people will let that mercy turn their hearts and minds to God with thankfulness and requests for understanding of His wisdom.

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