Hurricane Irma has a high-profile target in its potentially deadly path as it races toward the Florida coastline: President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago.
Irma is the second-strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, and the National Hurricane Center is warning that its projected track toward a U.S. landfall on Sunday is “potentially catastrophic.” As of 5 a.m. today, the storm was bearing down on the Leeward Islands and is expected to engulf the northern Virgin Islands later today. It could skim Puerto Rico this afternoon or tonight, passing just north of the island.
Trump’s resort, which he’s called the “Winter White House,” sits on a narrow barrier island in Palm Beach, Fla., about 75 miles north of Miami. Uncertain projections suggest the storm could land somewhere in South Florida before turning north and strafing the length of the state. It’s unclear if its eyewall will travel along the east or west side of the state, or barrel right up the middle.
Irma is a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 185 mph. Only Hurricane Allen, which slammed into parts of Mexico and Texas in 1980, was clocked with stronger winds, at 190 mph. If the storm makes landfall, coming two weeks after Hurricane Harvey inundated parts of Texas, it would be the first time in recorded history that two hurricanes classified as Category 4 or higher hit the U.S. in a single season, according to Weather Underground.
Some models show that Irma could hit Mar-a-Lago, but others see it striking the Carolinas. The exact path of the storm, and its threat to Florida, will become clearer in the next few days. Regardless of the path, the hurricane could cause destruction to both coasts of Florida, said Bryan Norcross, a hurricane expert at the Weather Channel.
“Many possible tracks bring the worst of a large, powerful hurricane over or near the Keys and up the peninsula over the weekend,” he wrote in a Facebook message. “The circulation of strong winds is expected to be wide enough that both coasts of the state would be affected.”
Category 5 hurricanes can render areas uninhabitable for weeks or months, according to the National Hurricane Center. Such storms can destroy power grid infrastructure and blow away most homes. In a testament to its power, Irma is already registering on earthquake-monitoring equipment in the Caribbean.
Mar-a-Lago will be increasingly vulnerable to storm surges in the coming decades as sea levels continue to rise, according to Palm County officials. The county maintains a website devoted to the region’s rising climate risks.
“Although we could see a decrease in the number of hurricanes globally, both the amount of rainfall from individual hurricanes and force of the storms are expected to increase as sea surface temperature has increased,” the site states.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has already declared a state of emergency in all 67 counties of the state. He also wrote to Trump yesterday requesting that the federal government declare a pre-landfall emergency. Trump has not commented on the threat of Irma to his property, but he pledged to support Florida. The National Weather Service in Miami warned residents to have supplies on hand and “be ready to implement action plan.”
“In Florida, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best and while the exact path of Irma is not absolutely known at this time, we cannot afford to not be prepared,” Scott said in a statement.
Both Trump and Scott have questioned basic climate science. A 3-foot rise in sea levels could swamp parts of Mar-a-Lago permanently. Some scientists predict that could occur by 2100. In 2012, Superstorm Sandy broke through some sea walls on properties near Mar-a-Lago. The National Hurricane Center says storm surges could reach between 7 and 11 feet during Irma.
Trump also owns a multimillion-dollar mansion on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, which is bracing for a strike from Irma this morning. Winds in excess of 60 miles an hour were recorded there before dawn. . The 11-bedroom house is up for sale with an asking price of $16.9 million. The Trump National Doral golf course in Miami could also be affected by flooding. Miami-Dade County officials are beginning evacuations in some parts of the region today.
The eye of the hurricane is expected to pass Puerto Rico today, creating storm surges that reach 5 feet or more. Officials are preparing for power outages that could last for weeks.
Scientists caution that climate change can make hurricanes more intense. They strengthen over warm water, such as that around Florida, and rising temperatures create more water vapor in the atmosphere, intensifying rainfall. In addition, storm surge is worsened by sea-level rise, which makes Florida particularly vulnerable to climate change.
A receptionist who answered the phone at Mar-a-Lago yesterday said there are no plans to evacuate the club this weekend.
The storm comes about two weeks after Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm, hit Texas with severe rainfall and killed at least 60 people.
Officials in the Florida Keys ordered a mandatory evacuation today for visitors. Schools were also closed. Farther north, the town of Palm Beach is warning residents that the storm may hit but it has not issued evacuation orders.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.