Read: When Hurricane Dorian hits, look to your neighbors
All that power has had dramatic consequences in the Bahamas. At least five people have died there, reportedly including an 8-year-old boy. The Red Cross said that as many as 13,000 homes might have been destroyed. Once search-and-rescue teams can venture out and anecdotal reports can be confirmed, the official death toll and damage report are likely to rise.
One hundred eighty-five miles an hour is a devastating wind speed. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew essentially flattened the city of Homestead, Florida, after making landfall with winds at just 165 miles an hour.
But as my colleague Robinson Meyer has reported, and as the Western Hemisphere has repeatedly learned over the past few years, the wind isn’t a hurricane’s only threat. Nearly half of all hurricane-related deaths in the United States from 1963 to 2012 were caused by storm surge, including the vast majority of the 1,000-plus lives lost in Hurricane Katrina. Two years ago, freshwater flooding from Hurricane Harvey killed 65 people in Texas—all but three of the official casualty count.
In the Bahamas, people in Dorian’s path were told to expect 18 to 23 feet of storm surge; for reference, the Louisiana coast suffered 10 to 20 feet of surge during Katrina. Dorian was also forecast to dump 30 inches of rain on the Bahamas. On Sunday, Hubert A. Minnis, the Bahamian prime minister, described the streets of Abaco Island as indistinguishable from the ocean. He also said that parts of Marsh Harbour—the main city on Abaco, with a population of 6,000—were “under water.” On Grand Bahama, Grand Bahama International Airport is similarly inundated.
The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season was originally forecast to be a relatively average one, and it had a slow start. After El Niño ended, along with its moderating influence on Atlantic storms, the season’s prospects started to look more worrisome. Still, until last week, this year’s accumulated cyclone energy—a measure of the combined strength and duration of all tropical storms and hurricanes—was below normal for the North Atlantic. Dorian has more than made up that deficit.
Read: What Dorian could do
Some of the storm’s most frightening attributes, though, are on a par with recent trends. Dorian made 2019 the fourth year in a row that spawned at least one Category 5 hurricane; that’s the longest streak on record. Dorian’s rapid jump in wind speed is in line with the major storms of 2017 and 2018; Hurricane Maria, for example, jumped from a Category 1 storm to a Category 5 within 24 hours. And Dorian’s devastating stall over the Bahamas—the National Hurricane Center has listed the storm’s “present movement” as “stationary” since 5 p.m. yesterday—matches Harvey’s in 2017, Florence’s in 2018, and even Tropical Storm Barry’s earlier this year.