Hurricane Irma Tests Community Resilience As First Major Storm To Hit Community In 12 Years

By Tamas Mondovics

It has been 12 years since Hurricane Wilma, the last major storm to make landfall in the state of Florida and the most intense Atlantic hurricane to strike the United States since Katrina in 2005.

Photo by Hillsborough County
Interim Sheriff Chad Chromister and Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp read an update on Hurricane Irma’s status just hours before it reached the state of Florida.

But when Irma formed on August 30 as a tropical storm and became a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir–Simpson scale within a mere 24 hours to reach Category 3 hurricane (a major hurricane) shortly afterward, officials knew this could be the streak-breaker.

Ten days later Irma was done, but not before it has forever etched her name is the history books as one of the most powerful storms that brought coastal surge flooding, flooding rainfall and damaging winds stretching from the northern Leeward Islands to the Southeast U.S.

Irma plowed through portions of the Caribbean as a Category 5 hurricane and made landfall in Florida on September 10, first in the Keys and then near Marco Island.

The ninth named storm, fourth hurricane, and second major hurricane of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, Irma was one of only four hurricanes that have reached maximum sustained wind speeds of 185 mph or greater, which she maintained for nearly 40 hours; the longest on record.

Irma’s much-anticipated turn north did not come until she reached the west coast of Florida causing residents to make final preparations expecting the worst, but hoping for the best.

When she was done, (at the time of writing this article) Irma has caused an estimated $62 billion damage with some estimates closer to $100 billion, with a total of 81 fatalities.

Photo By NWS
Taking 12-hour-shifts during the storm, hard working meteorologists at the National Weather Service Tampa Bay office in Ruskin keep an eye on hurricane Irma’s path while distributing warnings to residents. More than 17,000 people took refuge in Hillsborough County shelters ahead of the storm.

Responding to the hard work on the part of his staff at the NWS Tampa Bay office in Ruskin, Brian LaMarre,

Meteorologist-in-Charge said, “I could not be more proud to work with such a talented and dedicated local team of professionals at this office (and outside of this office across the entire NWS and NOAA agency), including meteorologists, hydrologists, electronics and IT specialists, administrative support specialists, emergency response officials, members of media, and those watching and supporting Irma awareness, preparedness, response and recovery.”

As Irma stayed on track to reach the state, residents waited for hours to collect sandbags at the County’s Apollo Beach station.

Following some frantic last minute preparations by many residents who were gathering sandbags, hunting for water and gasoline or buying supplies that quickly emptied the store shelves, Irma reached the Florida Keys wracking havoc as she made her way westward around the peninsula and then up the coast before she ran out of steam.

More than 17,000 people had taken refuge in Hillsborough County shelters by Saturday evening. Special-needs shelters for residents with medical issues that require electricity assistance or cognitive issues were also opened.

Shaken by the storm, area residents rallied together wasting no time to come to the aid of each other, which was pleasant to see especially since prior to Irma’s arrival, patience and self-restraint on the parts of some seemed to run out as fast as supplies did.

It was heartwarming to hear that Campo and North Brandon YMCA facilities welcomed anyone in the community to come get a warm shower, some cool air and wifi just to name a few.

“The Campo YMCA was very fortunate to receive a large donation of items for any families that needed some assistance during Hurricane Irma’s aftermath,” said Y Communications Director, Lalita Llerena.

Young people went from house to house to help their neighbors pickup storm debris.

One community near the Alafia River in Lithia experienced some of the worst flooding following the storm, prompting Hillsborough County Fire Rescue to assist them with evacuation.

Supplies of water, food and clothing are collected by Seeds of Hope for those affected by Hurricane Irma.

Nearby residents and members of Seeds of Hope mobilized to bring food, water and clothing for evacuees.

While Irma shed light on the human spirit, it was also a wakeup call for many who may have lost their sense of urgency. Unfortunately, the season is only midway through. It is best to remember that it only takes one storm.

As one of the busiest in a decade, the 2017 hurricane season will leave no doubt about the need for vigilance and advance preparation. A recap of the storm in photos puts things in a visual perspective.

For more information, please visit the www.noaa.gov.