As of this writing, Hurricane Irma is likely about 24 hours away from hitting the mainland U.S. as at least a Category 4 storm, apparently riding up the west coast of Florida. It’s already absolutely devastated smaller Caribbean islands and broken all kinds of records:

  • The longest sustained 186 mph winds ever recorded, lasting 37 hours. the previous record was 24 hours.
  • Irma has the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded, 915 millibars.
  • The energy a hurricane packs is measured in Accumulated Cyclone Energy, or ACE. Irma’s broken two ACE records: the highest ACE rating ever at 44.2 units, and also the highest ACE values over a 24-hour period.

And, of course, Irma’s not alone out there. It’s being closely followed by storm Jose, which is currently a Cat 4 itself, though it’s hoped that cyclone will track out into the Atlantic Ocean. A third formerly eastward-bound storm, Katia, appears to be fizzling out now over Mexico.

Fortunately, there are people like Alan Sealls at WKRG in Mobile, Alabama who excel at making extreme weather like this make sense. After watching his broadcast from last Wednesday, you might feel less out of control if you at least understand how such storms work and how seriously, or not, to take predictions of storm paths. It'll help you know how to interpret coverage of this rolling nightmare and other storms. Being informed at least feels a little better.