The monster’s eye: satellite video offers a terrifying view of Irma, 2nd strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic

By Tom Yulsman | September 6, 2017 10:30 am

Closeup look at Hurricane Irma’s eye, acquired by the GOES-16 weather satellite. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

As I’m writing this on Wednesday morning, the eye of Hurricane Irma — a “potentially catastrophic” Category 5 storm – has passed over the islands of Barbuda, Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin, and was shortly headed for the Virgin Islands.

I shudder to think what has been happening on the ground with the storm’s maximum sustained winds clocked at 185 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center. This video from Saint Martin says it all:

As Irma continues to grind like a buzz saw toward Puerto Rico and eventually Florida, I’ll try to post regular updates featuring remote sensing images of the storm. The video at the top of this post is my first installment.

It was acquired by GOES-16 as the weather satellite stared into the eye of the monstrous atmospheric vortex. If you watch closely, you can spot swirling shapes within the low-level clouds rotating around the center axis of the eye. Each one is a relatively small vortex itself. Scientists call this a “meso-vortex.”


GOES-16 view of Irma near sunrise on September 6, 2017. When you click on the screenshot, the animation may take some time to load. (Source: CIMSS)

Here’s another view captured by GOES-16. It shows the storm over the course of two hours near sunrise on September 6, 2017. Each frame of the video was acquired a minute apart, providing an astonishing perspective.

The video shows Irma moving through the Leeward Islands to the east of Puerto Rico, with a clear, distinct eye — a characteristic of particularly strong hurricanes.

After passing through the Virgin Islands, Irma is expected to take aim on Puerto Rico. After that, all indications are that it will take a turn to the northwest and north, heading toward southern Florida later this week. But the hurricane center reminds us that the average uncertainty in the track of a hurricane at four and five days out is 175 and 225 statue miles, respectively. So it’s still too soon to say with any certainty what Irma may hold in store for Florida.

If Irma should wobble over the mountains of Cuba, it would probably lose some strength. But for now, here’s the sobering news from the hurricane center:

Irma is forecast to remain within favorable atmospheric conditions and over warm waters during the next 3 to 4 days. Therefore, Irma is likely to remain a very powerful hurricane during this time . . .

  • OWilson

    Great graphics Tom.

    Especially to be able to see the track, and try to figure out the direction.

    I’m supposed to be in that area, but the planes aren’t flying, obviously!

    With a little luck, the eye could veer a little more to the NNW and skirt most of the land!

    We’ll see!

    • OWilson


      Looks like Irma did veer a little North.

      The strongest wing recorded at Puerto Plato Airport was a very brief gust of 31 MPH at noon Thursday.

      With similar luck, a cool front over the SE U,S,, and the Bahamas themselves could nudge it away from Florida.

      But, then there’s Jose!

  • John C

    In stable, belly-to-earth position, terminal velocity is 120 mph. Stable freefall head down position has a terminal speed of 150–180 mph.
    So imagine how buildings would handle that.

    • OWilson

      The DR half of the island has rudimentary building codes calling for concrete or cement block walls on even the smallest shacks.

      The poor Haitians are the ones (as usual) at most risk. They live in lean-tos, boxes, and tents.

      The death toll can be 100 times greater in Their part of the Island from the same hurricane.

      The difference?

      Well, the same as difference between North Korea and South Korea! – Government!

      • jonathanpulliam

        “…The poor Haitians are the ones (as usual) at most risk. They live in lean-tos, boxes, and tents, not yet recovered from previous hurricanes and earthquakes.”

        Not exactly.

        Irma’s eye-wall is slated to pass well north of Haiti, so the danger would be to Haiti’s north east, and primarily from the torrential rains associated with Irma, and the flooding and landslides that may result from that. The previous hurricane affected SW Haiti and of course the epicenter of quake was in Leogane, again not in Irma’s path, knock on wood…

        • OWilson

          Let’s hope you are right about the storm’s path!

          But, check the casualty figures from earthquakes and storms in both RD and Haiti

          If you’ve been there over the years like I have, you would see that Haiti is a always a human disaster just waiting to happen.

          The big question, for the poor Haitians, is what actually happened to all that money that was donated and collected by international charitable foundations, assorted rock stars and even our own politicians with their “Family” Foundations?

          See NBC News: “What does Haiti have to show for the $13,000,000,000.00 Earthquake Aid?”

          (They are certainly not biased against socialism)

          Might help you understand! :)

          • jonathanpulliam

            I’ve been to Haiti many, many times.

            The first stay was during the first Aristide Presidency. I visited Port-au-Prince during the Raul Cedras government, also during the second Aristide government, and I was there for a brief period of “no government” prior to the Preval govt.

            I was on the first scheduled U.S. carrier flight to P-au-P after the earthquake, immediately after the doctors and medical personnel only restriction on commercial air travel was lifted.

            I think I understand plenty.

          • OWilson

            You’ve been there far more than I have! I’m impressed!

            Accordingly, I’ll defer to your expertise on the situation on the ground.

            (But I’ll reserve the right to disagree with your opinions on what I believe to be the causes of their terrible predicament! :)


    • jonathanpulliam

      If Odumbo fell out of a plane, there’d also be the parasitic drag from the flapping ears.

  • Angela A Stanton PhD

    wow awesome videos! Scary stuff!



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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