Hurricane Irma was an expensive natural disaster responsible for significant property damage, more than a dozen deaths and a season-long slowdown in agricultural production.
The National Hurricane Center attributed roughly $50 billion worth of property damage to Hurricane Irma.
Before the storm, dozens of city and county governments put into place evacuation plans, resulting in 5.6 million people fleeing their homes, the largest evacuation in United States history.
Peak wind speeds were clocked in Naples at 142 mph. Although winds in Miami weren’t quite as severe at 73 mph, they were still enough to topple three cranes in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area and flood streets.
Approximately 65 percent of the homes in the Florida Keys were damaged and 25 percent were entirely destroyed. A huge swath of Florida’s southwest coast was hit by 15-foot storm surge.
Hurricane Irma set a few relevant records, many of which contributed to the extent of the damages. It easily beat out past hurricanes for length of Category 5 status before making landfall, maintaining winds of 185 mph or higher for 37 hours.
It was estimated that 70,000 square miles of the U.S. was subjected to at least tropical storm force winds during Hurricane Irma. To put that into perspective, Florida itself is only about 65,000 square miles.
Irma was not in any way a localized event – its front stretched 650 miles east to west.
Although Florida was worst hit, Hurricane Irma’s path drove it deep into mainland U.S.A., causing flooding to various degrees in nine different states.
Downtown Charleston, South Carolina was flooded by the storm. Some homes and businesses in Savannah, Georgia and many area highways were also severely damaged by its effects.
Parts of Puerto Rico were left without power for 11 months after Hurricane Irma devastated the island. Approximately 3.8 million households and businesses in Florida lost power during Hurricane Irma, roughly 36 percent of the state. Some homes in Western Florida didn’t have power restored until September 22, which was 12 days after the storm made landfall.
In Georgia, roughly 900,000 lost power, and more than 500,000 still didn’t have power by the following Wednesday, including 300,000 in the Atlanta area. Roughly 160,000 businesses and homes lost power in South Carolina and North Carolina, with nearly 50,000 still not having power restored days later.
Many Florida growers lost trees due to the high winds. The Florida Farm Bureau estimated the revenue lost due to agriculture damage to be in the billions. Early estimates of crop loss in southwest Florida was 70 percent due to wind and root system flooding. Citrus farmers statewide were fearing a 50 percent loss of that season’s crop.
Hundreds of flights were cancelled as well as numerous cruises. Airports and seaports were closed for days after the storm passed. Even scheduled launches had to be postponed and moved at Kennedy Space Center on the Space Coast.
Roughly 22,000 hotel rooms stood empty in Miami Beach, with an estimated $25 million loss in revenue. The financial damage was spread out among businesses, with many popular restaurants losing out on tens of thousands of dollars on business in the week following Hurricane Irma’s Sunday landfall. All those restaurants, along with many grocery stores and other retail businesses that sell perishable goods, had to throw out tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of inventory.
A week of no sales combined with having to completely toss your inventory and stock up again is a hard hit for a small business. Many businesses rely on a steady cash flow from sales to continue purchasing stock week after week, so losing even one week of sales plus their inventory was catastrophic for some.
Overall the lost economic output attributed to Hurricane Irma was estimated to be roughly $33 billion. Although Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas roughly two weeks prior to Hurricane Irma’s landfall, caused more property damage, the effect it had on the economy – just $8.5 billion – wasn’t nearly as severe as Hurricane Irma.