Daylight revealed the scope of destruction Hurricane Irma caused across Florida.
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Hurricane Irma was an unpredictable, powerful Category 3 storm that kept forecasters guessing, even after landfall.
One of the nation’s top meteorologists says the storm could have easily been a Category 5 with 15-foot storm surge and 150 mph winds.
“There was nothing about this storm that was as expected,” said Jeff Masters, a meteorologist and founder of Weather Underground. “It could have been so much worse. If it had traveled 20 miles north of the coast of Cuba, you’d have been looking at a (Category) 5 instead of a (Category) 3.”
Masters and other meteorologists expected the storm to hit the east coast a few days ago. But the storm bypassed the Miami area, although winds from the storm caused storm surge in Miami-Dade and Brevard counties.
“This was a very difficult storm for the state of Florida because we didn’t know if it was going to go up the east coast or the west coast,” Masters said.
Irma did neither, instead making landfall at Marco Island at 3:35 p.m. ET as a Category 3 before tracking toward the center of the state.
The massive storm produced clouds that covered 300 miles from one end to the other.
That’s more than twice as wide as the state.
“Obviously there were huge impacts over huge areas,” said Andrew Hagen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami. “Then it moved northward over the Naples area and the center (of the hurricane) stayed inland.”
Gusts of 142 mph were reported at the Naples Airport.
From the Naples airport Irma continued north.
“(Hurricanes) follow low pressure, and basically that was the major influence guiding it to the north (at that point),” said Rodney Wynn, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin.
Irma, then a Category 2, began to break apart after making landfall as the highest gusts in Lee County were 89 mph, recorded at Southwest Florida International Airport.