As the strongest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history continues to wreak havoc in the Caribbean, two more threats have emerged in the form of hurricanes Jose and Katia. Though it's unusual for three hurricanes to be active in the Atlantic basin at the same time, it isn't without precedent.
Earlier this year, scientists at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted an active hurricane season — and it's starting to become clear that they were spot on. The latest two cyclones, Jose and Katia, are now the 10th and 11th storms to be named in the Atlantic in 2017, and there are still eight tortuous weeks left in the official hurricane season.
Three simultaneous hurricanes in the Atlantic basin may seem extreme, but it happens about once every 10 years. "Three or more hurricanes have occurred simultaneously in the following years in the Atlantic (in the satellite era): 1967, 1980, 1995, 1998, 2010 and now in 2017," said Jeff Masters, a meteorologist with Weather Underground, in an email to Gizmodo.
— Brian McNoldy (@BMcNoldy) September 7, 2017
So it's been seven years since it last happened, when hurricanes Igor, Julia and Karl appeared simultaneously in the Atlantic in 2010. Four simultaneous Atlantic hurricanes have been recorded just twice in history, once in 1893 (before hurricanes were given names) and again in 1998 (Georges, Ivan, Jeanne and Karl). It's a small sample size, but four concurrent hurricanes seems to be a once-in-a-century event.
With all eyes fixed on the Atlantic basin, the greatest concern still lies with Irma. Now the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic, and packing 298km/h winds, the storm has passed Puerto Rico and is now roiling through unusually warm waters to the immediate north of the Dominican Republic. Models show it moving in a northwesterly trajectory over the next day or two, but once Irma reaches the northern tip of Cuba it's expected to make a dramatic swing northwards, sending it directly toward Florida's south coast. In a worst case scenario, Miami would take a direct hit. NOAA is warning that storm surges could get as high as 5.5 to 7m, both in Florida and along the Georgia coast.
Hurricane Jose, another Cape Verde storm, is following in the wake of Irma, but it's projected to travel along a more northerly path. Jose is expected to swing north by Sunday, at which time it could be a major hurricane, a Category 3 or greater. It will get uncomfortably close to the northern Leeward Islands, which just faced the wrath of Irma. It's still early days for Jose, so projections for this storm could change.
Projected path of hurricane Katia. The red strip represents areas in which hurricane watches are in effect. (Image: NOAA)
And finally there's hurricane Katia, which emerged in the Gulf of Mexico not far from where Harvey formed just two weeks ago. Katia is now a Category 1 storm that's also expected to gain strength in the coming days. Unlike Harvey, which moved north into Texas, Katia is expected to move into Mexico; the storm could be a Category 3 by the time it makes landfall. It's currently about 290km northeast of Veracruz, and it's barely moving.
Hurricane watches have been issued along portions of the Mexican coast. The storm is considered a "small tropical cyclone", with winds around 129km/h and an expected 13 to 25cm of rain. Nothing too severe yet, but nothing to trifle with either.