All schools—and indeed all people—in Puerto Rico lost power yesterday as Hurricane Maria, with its massive amounts of cyclone energy, made a direct hit on the island territory, the worst such storm in about 85 years, the BBC reports.
(To find the accumulated cyclone energy, square the maximum sustained surface wind in a system every six hours that the cyclone is a named storm and sum it up for the season.)
Puerto Rico, a territory of the US, is home to about 3.5 million people.
Abner Gómez, head of the disaster management agency, said none of the island had any power, and the National Hurricane Center said “catastrophic” flooding was sweeping parts of the island. “When we are able to go outside, we are going to find our island destroyed,” he was quoted as saying by the El Nuevo Dia newspaper. “It’s a system that has destroyed everything in its path.”
As of Tuesday night, the storm began tracking away from Puerto Rico as a Category 2 storm, but it had already devastated parts of Dominica and other Caribbean islands.
Typically, a ridge of low pressure hovers over the East Coast, a force that keeps many hurricanes and larger storm systems well away from the US mainland. But this year, the low pressure center has been pushed to the west, and that has left the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico more vulnerable to hurricanes.
The ocean water is also warmer in the area, and since water evaporates more when it’s warm, the extra moisture in the air has also exacerbated the formation of hurricanes. Water temperatures over Irma were around 85°F, turning those waters into reinforcement for the storm.
Some years stand out as busy hurricane seasons. For example, there were eight major (Category 3 or higher) hurricanes in 1950, compared to only four so far this year.