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Irma Exhausts the Superlatives
It would have been impossible to imagine just two weeks ago, but Hurricane Irma has been even more destructive than Hurricane Harvey. Even as Houstonians and other Texans struggled to cope with the aftermath of Harvey, Floridians battened down the hatches and evacuated. Irma hammered the entire state after leveling several Caribbean Islands. Then the storm, the biggest and most powerful cyclone ever recorded, moved on and pounded the South as a tropical storm. Here's what happened and how we covered it. Please read up from the bottom for full context.
9/19/17, 8PM ET, TUESDAY
FIRST TO CLOSE, KEY WEST AIRPORT WILL REOPEN TOMORROW
The first airport in Florida to close in the face of Hurricane Irma is the last airport to reopen. Key West International (EYW) will open tomorrow after being closed since September 6. There will be limited service and Key West is urging anyone who's not a resident or emergency worker to stay away.
9/18/17, 8:45PM ET, MONDAY
FLORIDA STILL NOT BACK TO NORMAL, WHATEVER THAT MAY BE
About 150,000 customers--that means homes and businesses--remain without electricity, says Florida Power & Light. And 1.1 million people statewide still don't have their Internet and/or mobile-phone service. Meanwhile, 10,000 people are homeless in Monroe County, which encompasses the Florida Keys. That's a startling 10 percent of the residents, who were only allowed full access beginning yesterday. "The damage is beyond belief," said Monroe County Mayor George Neugent. "It's just mind-boggling." Water and power remain real problems, too. The primary airport, Key West International (EYW), says it won't have an estimate of when it could open until tomorrow afternoon.
9/18/17, 8:30PM ET, MONDAY
WAITING FOR MARIA, CANCELLING DUE TO IRMA
Even before Hurricane Maria arrives, there are still very high flight cancellations around the Caribbean as a result of Hurricane Irma. About 25 percent of the flights today dumped at Cyril King Airport on St. Thomas (STT) although the airport on St. Croix, Henry Rohlsen (STX), is running normally. Twenty percent of the flights at Beef Island (EIS) on Tortola, the primary airport of the British Virgin Islands, were cancelled. About 10 percent of the flights at San Juan cancelled, too.
9/14/17, 10PM ET, THURSDAY
THE SLOW SLOG TO NORMAL FLIGHT SCHEDULES IN FLORIDA
Florida's leading airports are slowly bringing capacity back on-line, but it's definitely a slog. On Wednesday (September 13), Fort Lauderdale said it had about 115 cancellations and as many delays. Miami says it managed only about 50 percent of its daily operations, about the same as yesterday. Part of the reason why flights are slow to return is that airlines are cancelling the evening part of their schedules. With hotel rooms at a premium as evacuees continue to crowd available lodgings, the airlines say they have no place to overnight crews. Thus planes fly out of Florida late in the afternoon and don't return until the next day. Things have run a little better today, however. Fort Lauderdale reports around 30 cancellations. Tampa says it is running at about 90 percent of scheduled service. Miami says it got up to around 66 percent today. American, which hubs in Miami and has extensive operations around the state, reports about 430 cancellations today.
9/14/17, 3PM ET, THURSDAY
NO ELECTRICITY? SOME MIAMI HOTELS WANT YOUR BUSINESS
With some residents being told by Florida Power & Light that their electricity won't be restored until September 17 (Atlantic Coast) or even September 22 (Gulf Coast), the state's hotel industry senses an opportunity to replace out-of-state guests who never arrived. Hotels around the Miami area are offering rates as low as $99 to Florida residents who need accommodations. The Miami Herald has a list of participating properties.
9/13/17, 6PM ET, WEDNESDAY
MARRIOTT'S SHIP OF FOOLS
St. Thomas and St. John's in the U.S. Virgin Islands were hit hard by Hurricane Irma, a story that only reached mainstream media outlets about a week later. After the storm passed en route to Florida, Marriott chartered a ferry to evacuate guests from its Frenchman's Reef and Morning Star resort on St. Thomas. The Marriott ferry apparently left dozens of travelers stranded at the dock. The claim? Even though there was plenty of space, Marriott's chartered ship wouldn't carry anyone who wasn't a Marriott customer. People were turned away even though the U.S. Coast Guard had directed them to the ferry for evacuation. Marriott's initial response basically confirmed that its half-empty ship marooned people wanting to evacuate. That naturally caused a social-media firestorm. Did Marriott apologize? Of course not. Although it rebuffed inquiries from reporters, Marriott planted a story with a little-known blogger for Forbes.com. In the piece, ludicrously labeled the "inside story" of a "high-seas" rescue, a Marriott executive claimed "security personnel" at the dock barred non-Marriott customers from reaching the boat.
9/12/17, 10:15PM ET, TUESDAY
PLENTY OF CANCELLATIONS TODAY AROUND THE SOUTHEAST
Airports in the Southeast began crawling back into the skies today (9/12). There were heavy cancellations, but tomorrow will be a little better.
According to FlightAware.com at 10pm ET, about 45 percent of the scheduled flights at Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Miami were cancelled. Tampa and Ft. Myers got only about half their normal service. About 20 percent of the schedule was dumped in San Juan and 15 percent dropped at Palm Beach International. Two hubs lashed yesterday (9/11) by the outer bands of Irma had problems, too. About 6 percent of the schedule cancelled at Charlotte, an American hub, and about 8 percent of flights dumped at Atlanta, Delta's mega-hub. Thankfully, JoeSentMe members transiting Atlanta did say travel was fairly uneventful.
For the day (9/12) to date, JetBlue has cancelled about half its schedule, a reflection of the airline's heavy dependence on its Florida operations. American, with hubs in Miami and Charlotte, dumped about 18 percent of its flights. Southwest Airlines cancelled 14 percent. United dropped 3 percent and Delta cancelled 2 percent.
So far for tomorrow (9/13), the major pain points are Miami, where 40 percent of the scheduled flights are already gone, and Tampa, which expects to lose about 25 percent of its schedule.
9/12/17, 7PM ET, TUESDAY
ANGER, HUNGER, LOOTING AND NO AIRPORT IN ST. MARTIN
The French-Dutch island of St. Martin was visited by French president Emanuel Macron today, a day after King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands arrived. They brought emergency supplies and promises of aid. But the situation is dire on the island, which was hit directly last Wednesday (September 6) by Irma as a Category 5 storm.
About 90,000 residents are now homeless and French and Dutch troops were required to keep order after outbreaks of looting. "Not a building on the island was untouched," Jeff Sochrin, managing director of a leading St. Martin radio station, told German television. There's little power, virtually no communications and food and water is in extremely short supply. After being inaccessible for several days, reporters from Time magazine, the British newspaper Daily Mail and the wire service Reuters have reached the island. They found despair, hunger--and anger at the colonial powers that control the island. The pictures in the newspaper report are especially chilling.
The island's primary airport, Princess Juliana International, sustained heavy damage to its runway and passenger terminal. No reopening date has been announced. KLM isn't scheduling commercial flights until October 1. WestJet, the Canadian carrier, won't return until October 29. Copa Airlines, which connects Central America with the island, has no flights until December 31. U.S. carriers haven't said when they expect to return. And Winair, the respected St. Martin-based carrier, says don't call us, we'll call you. "Dear customers," it said in a Facebook post today, "We are in no condition to answer your questions. We will do our utmost to rebuild our own homes and find accommodations for our offices. We will get in touch as soon as we can."
9/12/17, 6PM ET, TUESDAY
Here is an update on conditions on the ground in Florida:
+ With the exception of the Florida Keys, all roads in Florida are officially open...kinda, sorta. Check with http://fl511.org for latest conditions, closures, diversions and road work.
+ Major retailers are rushing to get stores reopened. You can check on the progress and hours of Walgreens, the drug-and-convenience chain; Walmart; and the supermarket chain Publix.
+ There are still curfews in some counties and Florida Power & Light says electrical power may not be restored for ten more days to areas in the western part of the state.
+ Schools in most parts of the state probably won't reopen until Monday.
+ If you have lodging reservations in the next few days, check with your hotel or resort. Many are still housing evacuees and may not have a room. There are alternatives, however, especially along the Atlantic Coast.
+ Ocean swimming is not recommended at this time. The Florida Health Department says the water might be contaminated with bacteria. It also recommends boiling water if your area was flooded and you draw water from a private well.
+ Authorities allowed some residents of the Upper Keys to return to their homes today (9/12), but areas south of Islamorada remain off-limits. Irma whacked the Keys as a Category 5 hurricane on Sunday (9/10) and power, water, cell service and Tnternet have been sporadic. So have reports on conditions. According to FEMA, 25 percent of the homes in the Keys have been destroyed and 65 percent have suffered some kind of damage. Key West International Airport (EYW) remains closed. Senator Marco Rubio (R) suggested this morning (9/12) on CNN that portions of the south Keys may have to be evacuated in the days ahead.
9/11/17, 10PM ET, MONDAY
MORE TRAVEL NEWS AND SOME CONTEXT IN FLORIDA
Here's another update on travel conditions--and some much-needed context about the storm's devastating impact. First the travel ...
+ Six more Florida airports--Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Orlando International, Melbourne and Tallahassee--say they will start limited flight service tomorrow (9/12). Schedules will be extremely sparse, of course. And who says you'll even be able to get to an airline on the phone? And I'm not sure any schedule information you read online is accurate.
+ Delta Air Lines says there will be at least 140 cancellations tomorrow (9/12) at its Atlanta Hartsfield hub. Delta eventually dumped about 1,100 flights today (9/11) after originally announcing only 800 cancellations. Expect major cancellations in Charlotte, too, although American Airlines hasn't copped to anything yet. But FlightStats.com is showing more than 150 cancellations at Charlotte.
+ If you're looking to drive in Florida, the most accurate real-time information about closures is at https://fl511.com/
Now some context ...
+ As many as 13 million Floridians are without power, according to the state's Emergency Operations Center. That's about 60 percent of the population. Previous estimates were of "customers"--i.e., homes or businesses--and that accounts for the lower numbers being reported since the storm.
+ Police say there have been 29 arrests for looting in Miami-Dade County and 19 additional arrests in Fort Lauderdale, which is in Broward County.
9/11/17, 9PM ET, MONDAY
WHITE HOUSE SAYS RECOVERY IN THE FLORIDA KEYS WILL 'TAKE A WHILE'
There are more than three dozen bridges that link the various islands in the Florida Keys and not all have been inspected and cleared for routine traffic. State and federal officials are keeping residents from returning due to widespread destruction of the infrastructure. Power, water and mobile phone services are in short supply, too. "The Keys are going to take a while," White House homeland security advisor Tom Bossert said this afternoon. "I would expect that the Keys are not fit for reentry for regular citizenry for weeks."
9/11/17, 8:30PM ET, MONDAY
SOME DIRE REPORTS FROM THE CARIBBEAN
In the Caribbean, at least 39 people have died due to Hurricane Irma. Ten of the deaths were on Saturday in Cuba, when Irma hit the island especially hard. About three-quarters of the Cuban population remains without power. Meanwhile, British troops and emergency supplies have finally reached the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Turks and Caicos, three overseas British territories. The BBC reports widespread criticism of British relief efforts. The French-administered island of St. Barts, which hasn't been heard from since the storm, now reports badly damaged private homes and destroyed government buildings. The Toronto Star reports on an aid mission to St. Maarten. Both sides of the French/Dutch island were in the direct path of Irma. Looting broke out after the storm and French and Dutch troops were required to restore order. An evening curfew is still in effect.
9/11/17, 1PM ET, MONDAY
IRMA, NOW A TROPICAL STORM, CONTINUES TO WREAK HAVOC
On what would normally be a day of reflection and remembrance for business travelers, we have the unpleasant task of dealing with Tropical Storm Irma, the erstwhile hurricane that continues to pound a huge section of the United States.
The storm now has winds of 65 mph, a far cry from the Category 3 hurricane that whacked the Keys yesterday morning (9/10) and then made a second landfall on Marco Island later in the day. The highest wind recorded was a 142-mph gust in Naples last evening (9/10).
Don't let diminished winds fool you. The storm remains huge, covering almost all of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. Heavy rain is falling in many areas and wind gusts remain high. It's also colder than people expect from a "tropical storm." An estimated six million homes and businesses are without power in Florida, including 75 percent of Miami and more than half of the customers in the Fort Myers and Tampa areas. Power outages are rising in Georgia and South Carolina, too.
Here are updated reports from airports around the region. Please note the heavy cancellations in Atlanta (Delta's hub) and Charlotte (American's hub). If a Florida city is not listed here, assume the airport remains closed or there are no commercial flights scheduled to operate.
ATLANTA: Delta has cancelled 800 flights today (9/11), which virtually guarantees a scrambled schedule for the next few days. Southwest has cancelled most of its ATL schedule today (9/11) and all flights scheduled after 1pm. A state of emergency is now in effect in all 159 counties in the state.
CHARLESTON: The airport is open but virtually all commercial flights cancelled. Tomorrow (9/12) will be shaky, too. Heavy flooding is reported in the city's low-lying districts.
CHARLOTTE: American Airlines says more than 350 flights have been cancelled today (9/11). Expect similar cascade disruptions tomorrow (9/12). Southwest has dumped all flights until tomorrow (9/12).
FORT LAUDERDALE: The airport is closed today (9/11). It says it will reopen at 4am tomorrow (9/12). The main carrier there, JetBlue, will have to fly aircraft in because it moved all of its planes out before the storm.
FORT MYERS: No damage at airport, but no power, either. So there will be no flights until power is restored. The only airline that might operate tomorrow (9/12) is Delta. All other carriers cancelled their flights.
JACKSONVILLE: The airport is closed today (9/11) and there is serious flooding in the downtown area even before high tide later in the day.
MIAMI: The airport remains closed and officials there report water damage at all concourses and damage to airfield and fuel facilities. "Flights may resume tomorrow [9/12] with limited schedules," the airport says.
ORLANDO: All three airports claiming to serve the city--Orlando International, Sanford and Melbourne--remain closed. The theme parks were closed yesterday (9/10) and today (9/11). It seems to be the first time in history that Disney has closed its parks for two successive days.
TAMPA: The airport says it will open tomorrow (9/12). No news on when carriers might resume operations.
TALLAHASSEE: The last airport in Florida to close, it is now running on generator power. Terminals closed, no flights.
WEST PALM BEACH: The airport opened at noon today (9/11). Airport authorities say one Delta flight will operate.
Some final notes: Avoid the region this week if you can. Besides the lack of power and possible gasoline shortages, hundreds of thousands are displaced. Some who evacuated to Georgia from Florida were actually on the move again today (9/11) as the storm hit Georgia. If you must travel to the region this week, however, double-check your hotel reservations. Hotels may not be open, some may have storm-related damage or may not be able to honor reservations because they are hosting evacuees.
9/11/17, 12PM ET, MONDAY
GOOD NEWS AND BAD ABOUT THE CARIBBEAN
Back in the Caribbean, Provo Airport, the primary facility for Turks and Caicos, reopened at 11am this morning (9/11). It is unknown when flights will resume. Pictures sent by emergency crews arriving at St. Thomas airport in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Princess Juliana International on St. Martin show heavy damage to both facilities. It will certainly be a while before either can host commercial flights again. Both islands are still under curfew. And there's bad news from Hurricane Jose, which spun off into the Atlantic yesterday. New tracking says it may hit the Bahamas and Bermuda as a Category 1 storm by the weekend. Plan accordingly.
9/10/17, 10PM ET, SUNDAY
WHAT WILL NEXT WEEK LOOK LIKE? WHO KNOWS?
I wanted to bring you up-to-date about travel conditions in the days ahead. Rather than start in Florida, where Hurricane Irma continues to pound the state, let's begin in Atlanta, the huge hub of Delta Air Lines and a base of operations for Southwest Airlines.
Southwest says it will cancel half of its Atlanta flights tomorrow (9/11) and Delta says it has begun cancelling flights, too. FlightStats.com says Delta has already cancelled more than 320 flights tomorrow (9/11) and Southwest nearly 600. Not all are at Atlanta, of course.
But it would be wise to give Atlanta a pass for at least Monday (9/11) and Tuesday (9/12). The reason? The National Weather Service has issued a Tropical Storm Warning for Atlanta, the first time the city has been under such a forecast.
But it's not just Atlanta and Florida where there are issues. The airlines have issued travel waivers for all of Georgia and, depending on the carrier, for North and South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee. Or, simply put, if you can avoid the Deep South and Florida in the next few days, do it.
Florida, obviously, is much more complicated. At this moment, there are literally no commercial flights anywhere in the state. Flights have been cancelled even at the airports in the Panhandle, which were expecting to be spared. What's the outlook for this week? Bad, frankly.
Miami Airport says it will be closed tomorrow (9/11) and adds that it has suffered "significant" water damage. Yet American Airlines, the hub carrier there, says some limited operations will resume tomorrow night. So clearly there is some confusion. Fort Lauderdale says it hopes to open Tuesday (9/12) evening, but that is contingent on inspections and other assessments tomorrow (9/11).
No other airport that has closed in the last 48 hours has yet talked about when they might reopen or resume flight services. The one exception: Tallahassee, which claims it will reopen tomorrow (9/11) at 7:40pm ET. It's especially hard to assess what will happen with major airports on the state's Gulf Coast because Tampa and Fort Myers are still being hit by the hurricane.
Even when the airports do reopen, expect real issues. At the moment, for example, nearly four million people are without power in Florida. It could take days or weeks for the power to return. Besides, there are few if any jets in the state. JetBlue and American have moved most of their fleets elsewhere to avoid damage. It'll take several days to staff up and reposition aircraft in order to resume service.
Expect plenty of road closures and other issues in the days ahead. At midday today (9/10), for example, parts of Brickell Avenue, the major thoroughfare in the downtown business district, looked like a river. The Hurricane, currently a Category 2 storm, continues to buffet the state, so it is nearly impossible to discuss recovery. Fuel may be in short supply because the state's depots were closed before the storm. Hotel rooms are also an issue with so many Floridians having moved to lodging as part of the evacuation. Rooms are also in short supply in Georgia, where many Floridians moved.
9/10/17, 1PM ET, SUNDAY
CUBA TAKES A DIRECT HIT FROM IRMA
Hurricane Irma pounded the Lesser Antilles earlier this week and seemed headed directly for Florida. But confounding most forecasters, the storm took a westward jog and hit Cuba. It whacked the less developed parts of the island yesterday and then took aim at Havana. It slammed Varadero, Cuba's famed beachfront playground, as well as hitting the Cuban capital. If there was a "silver lining," it was that forecasters say Irma's Cuban diversion may take some steam out of the storm and limit its impact on Florida compared to earlier predictions.
9/10/17, 9AM ET, SUNDAY
ISLAND-BY-ISLAND REPORT ON POST-IRMA CONDITIONS
ANGUILLA Telecommunications were cut and took several days to restore. "The destruction is island-wide," a local restaurateur wrote on Facebook. A video posted by The New York Times shows extensive damage to homes and businesses. A resident says "There is no plywood left on the island." There's also no power and limited water supply, according to a utility executive speaking on the video.
ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA Antigua escaped serious damage, but Barbuda is literally uninhabitable. All of the island's residents have been evacuated. "I would say 100 percent of the infrastructure is gone. Light, water, communication, it's a total blackout," said Michael Joseph, president of the Red Cross in Antigua and Barbuda.
BAHAMAS The chain largely escaped damage when Hurricane Irma shifted westward. During the storm, an odd anomaly sucked the ocean away between Long Island and Exuma. The phenomenon was caught on video by a Facebook user. The primary airport, Lynden Pindling International in Nassau, could open on Sunday morning.
BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS Communications have been intermittent due to downed cell towers and power outages. There's been more than $1 billion of damage, according to first estimates. There was also a hurricane-aided jail break and about 100 inmates escaped. All of the islands sustained infrastructure damage. Tortola, the chain's largest and most important island, took an especially strong hit. Premier D. Orlando Smith said the islands suffered "total devastation of homes and businesses."
PUERTO RICO Hurricane Irma skirted the island and downed trees and power lines, but, generally speaking, Puerto Rico escaped the most dire consequences. Luis Marin Airport in San Juan also was spared and it operated almost continuously. One exception to the comparatively good news? Reports from the small subsidiary island of Culebra suggest widespread damage.
ST. MARTIN/ST. MAARTEN The island, which is half French administered and half Dutch colony, took a direct hit from Hurricane Irma. French and Dutch officials had to rush in troops to quell looting and restore order after the storm passed. The island's primary airport, Princess Juliana on the Dutch side, has been heavily damaged. It is in such rough state that it isn't even being used for emergency purposes. Dutch officials say about 70 percent of the homes on its side of the island were damaged or destroyed. ABC News posted a report claiming that tourists were attacked at their hotels. "All of our hotels have damage from minor to severe. We are in a difficult time regarding our infrastructure," said Rolando Brison, St. Maarten's director of tourism. "Many of our roads are inaccessible."
TURKS AND CAICOS Tourism director Ramon Andrew says that the islands' major airport, Providenciales, may not open for a week. Moreover, "all hotels in Turks and Caicos suffered damages, some minor, some more serious." There's been heavy damage to the islands' residential infrastructure, too. A photo posted to Facebook by the country's airport authority on Saturday shows damage and standing water at Provo Airport, the primary facility for the islands.
U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS There has been a "complete power/communications collapse" in the islands, according to FEMA. At least three U.S. Navy vessels were positioned off the islands to handle medical evacuations, do search-and-rescue missions and to clear debris. St. Thomas was hit hardest while St. Croix escaped the worst effects. Tourism authorities compiled an update of conditions at the islands' hotels and resorts.
9/9/17, 6PM ET, SATURDAY
DELTA BOWS TO MOTHER NATURE
A few days ago I warned you that travel to/from/through Delta's massive Atlanta/Hartsfield hub would be dicey next week. Delta didn't like that. Yesterday it begrudgingly extended its travel waiver to include Atlanta travel. And today the airline is actively urging you to book away from Atlanta on Monday and Tuesday and change your plans if you're already holding Hartsfield flights. There's plenty of reason for concern. As Hurricane Irma switched to a more westerly track this morning, chances increased that the storm--or remnants of it--would mess with Atlanta weather early next week. Plus there's Delta's proven inability to deal effectively with bad weather at its largest hub.
MOST FLORIDA AIRPORTS ARE NOW CLOSED
With the exception of a few panhandle airports, Florida is now basically closed for air traffic save for the final flights from Tampa this evening. Most of the airports in the Caribbean are still closed, too, and, in the case of Princess Julianna on St. Martin, may be closed for weeks. Notably, San Juan airport operated almost continually this week, including that storm-skirting Delta flight. When will Florida's major airports reopen? Depends on the conditions, of course. The two busiest airports in the state, Miami and Fort Lauderdale, may now be out of the way of the eye of the storm, but Irma is so big that it will still throw hurricane-force winds at those Atlantic Coast facilities. There could be substantial damage to everything from the control tower to passenger terminals. Besides, JetBlue Airways has moved all of its aircraft out of the state of Florida. So it'll be a while before JetBlue restarts at its Fort Lauderdale hub. This will take some time, folks, and patience (and maybe prayer) seems to be the order of the day.
9/8/17, 3PM ET, FRIDAY
YES, VIRGINIA, ATLANTA/HARTSFIELD TRAVEL IS AT RISK NEXT WEEK
I warned you yesterday that travel to/from/through Atlanta would be at risk next week because Hurricane Irma (or remnants of it) could bring heavy rain and plane-grounding winds to the Hartsfield Airport mega-hub. I promptly got pushback from some airline executives who claimed I was being unnecessarily alarmist while they were trying to manage the situation in Florida.
Now, not so much...
Delta Air Lines, which operates upwards of 1,000 flights a day at Hartsfield, has now issued a travel waiver for Atlanta. If you have tickets to travel until September 17 via Atlanta, you can make fee-free changes to your plans. Delta also extended the waiver to other Georgia destinations (Albany, Augusta, Brunswick, Columbus, Savannah and Valdosta) and Charleston, South Carolina. Southwest, the distant second at Hartsfield, now allows changes for flights to/from Atlanta; Birmingham, Alabama; and Charleston. Expect United and American to follow suit soon.
And a reminder: Delta has a miserable track record handling weather-related troubles at Hartsfield and has a nasty habit of blaming others.
9/8/17, 2:45PM ET, FRIDAY
A GIGANTIC STORM WITH BROAD GEOGRAPHIC REACH
No kidding, folks, Hurricane Irma is gigantic. Although the question of where, exactly, it will make landfall remains open, there is little doubt now that the entire state of Florida will be seriously affected. Current models have shifted the landing of the eyewall westward from earlier predictions, but the bulk of the storm will barrel right up the middle of the state, raising the distinct possibility of storm surges and heavy flooding on both the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Moreover, Georgia, North and South Carolina and even Virginia have declared states of emergency. Although the hurricane-force winds may subside early next week, heavy rains and high seas may create real problems for destinations as far north as the low-lying coastal areas of North Carolina.
9/8/17, 2:15PM ET, FRIDAY
RUSHBO BUGS OUT IN THE FACE OF LIBERAL 'PANIC'
Well, surprise, surprise. Right-wing stalwart Mark Steyn is guest-hosting the Rush Limbaugh Show today. Limbaugh, who lives in and broadcasts from Palm Beach, has evacuated. Why is that interesting? On Monday's show, he ridiculed Florida's preparations for Hurricane Irma as a liberal conspiracy. "The reason I am leery of forecasts this far out, folks, is because I see how the system works," he said, then implied that it was a deep-state plot against President Trump. "Hurricane Harvey and the TV pictures that accompany that go a long way to helping further and create the panic."
9/8/17, 1:15PM ET, FRIDAY
MORE FLORIDA AIRPORTS HAVE CLOSED
Some updated airport closure information: St. Petersburg/Clearwater is now closed. JetBlue, the largest carrier at West Palm Beach International, says its last flight will be at 9pm tonight. Tampa International says it will close Saturday at 8pm. Fort Lauderdale has confirmed that it will remain closed on Sunday. Key West International halted flights yesterday, which is notable because it originally planned to close on Wednesday evening. The FAA says it isn't likely to reopen until September 21. (Yes, September 21.) At least 10 airports on Caribbean islands remain closed, the FAA adds.
9/8/17, 10:15AM ET, FRIDAY
HURRICANE KATIA IS GOING TO WHACK MEXICO'S GULF COAST
While the U.S. focus is understandably on Hurricane Irma targeting Florida, Hurricane Katia has strengthened to a Category 2 storm and may be a Category 3 event when it makes its expected landfall tomorrow on the Gulf Coast of Mexico. In case you've lost track, a Category 2 hurricane can have winds as high as 110 mph. A Category 3 storm may have winds up to 129 mph. Both are killers and seem small only by comparison to Irma, currently a Category 4 storm. Katia is expected to hit the Southeast Mexican coast near Veracruz and bring high winds, as much as 15 inches of rain and a storm surge of 5 to 7 feet. (You can find the latest U.S. National Weather Service advisory on Katia here.)
9/8/17, 7:15AM ET, FRIDAY
MIAMI AIRPORT HAD A VERY BAD NIGHT
Miami International Airport last night "was like the last day evacuating from Saigon," one JoeSentMe member said by E-mail as he was waiting on his long-delayed flight to Chicago/O'Hare. And while the commentary sounds hyperbolic, the statistics back it up. As travelers looked to evacuate, flights were packed even though airlines were using larger aircraft and laid on a few additional flights. As the evening dragged on, the FAA said delays reached three hours, complete with gate and tarmac holds. According to FlightStats.com, there were nearly 400 arrival and departure delays at MIA during the day. There were about 150 cancels, but those were mostly to/from closed Caribbean airports. One other MIA complication: A man wielding a knife somehow got access to secure areas and the tarmac. He then got into a confrontation with Miami-Dade police and was shot. According to the Miami Herald, events took place around 8:30pm in and around Concourse J, which handles international flights. (Full details here.)
9/8/17, 7AM ET, FRIDAY
HUGE EARTHQUAKE OFF THE PACIFIC COAST OF MEXICO
It's getting harder and harder not to think the entire planet is rebelling against us. While three active hurricanes are barreling around the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, a magnitude 8.2 earthquake hit the Pacific Coast of Mexico in the overnight hours. Although the primary impact was felt in Chiapas, Oaxaca and Tabasco states in the south of the country, tremors were felt as far away as Mexico City. As many as two million have been without power. Dozens are reported dead and that toll is expected to rise as communications are restored. The only thing that could be considered a silver lining? There doesn't seem to have been any extraordinary damaging tsunami waves and aftershocks have been comparatively modest. More coverage from the Los Angeles Times is here.
9/7/17, 7:15PM ET, THURSDAY
AIRLINES YIELDING TO THE STRONGEST STORM IN HISTORY
Irma continues to swirl at 175 mph with hurricane-force winds that extend outward for 100 miles from the eye. Depending on whom you're consulting, the storm is as large as Connecticut, France or Texas. Yes, I know that's a pretty wide range, but that's what they are saying. No matter what's geographically accurate, however, Irma is a big, nasty storm that has broken all previous records for strength and length of intensity. In other words, this is the strongest storm in recorded history.
Now whacking the Turks and Caicos, Irma is expected to make landfall in Florida early Saturday, possibly as a Category 4 Hurricane. The entire state of Florida is at risk. Here is how the airlines are currently casting their Florida operations.
AMERICAN: It has cancelled about 2,200 flights. Operations at its Miami hub, as well as Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Orlando, West Palm Beach and other Florida airports, will stop on Friday afternoon. Service will be canceled throughout the weekend.
DELTA: It expects to close operations at Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach on Friday night. About 260 flights are cancelled through Sunday. No flights Saturday and probably Sunday.
JETBLUE: It has cancelled nearly 900 flights through Monday, but has not officially said it will close any airport operations.
SOUTHWEST: All flights cancelled from Friday afternoon through Sunday at four Florida airports: Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Orlando and West Palm Beach.
UNITED: Flights at Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach end about 4pm Friday. On Saturday, flights end 9am at Fort Myers and 5pm at Orlando and Jacksonville. No flights in Florida on Sunday.
+ Orlando International (MCO) closes for all flights at 5 pm on Saturday.
+ San Juan International is now open, but most flights were cancelled today.
+ Airports in the British and U.S. Virgin Islands are still closed. Princess Juliana International on St. Martin was heavily damaged and flights may not resume for days
. + Flights to the Bahamas and Havana are cancelled through the weekend. All of the airports in the Bahamas, including the largest in Nassau, are expected to be closed until Sunday.
+ At least nine people died on the French/Dutch Island of St. Martin/St. Maarten. Besides the damage to the airport, much of the Dutch side of the island is destroyed. (As earlier reported, 90 percent of the buildings and vehicles on Barbuda were destroyed.) About 70 percent of the homes and businesses on Puerto Rico have lost power after the storm skirted the island this morning.
9/7/17, 6PM ET, THURSDAY
SHOULD WE WORRY ABOUT ATLANTA NEXT WEEK?
As Hurricane Irma makes its way to South Florida, I'm trying to think ahead to next week. Specifically, Irma's impact on Delta's huge hub at Atlanta. If the weather experts' best guesses and forecasts are accurate, Irma will still be a Category 1 Hurricane when it reaches Georgia on Monday. While it will probably be tropical-storm strength in the Atlanta area, that still means high winds and heavy rains. Given Delta's atrocious performance in April during what would be a much more modest storm by comparison, there may be clutches of cancellations and delays to/from/through Hartsfield early next week. My best advice? Book away. If you're using Atlanta for connections, find another hub next week. Better safe than cancelled and drowning your sorrows at an overcrowded SkyClub.
9/7/17, 4PM ET, THURSDAY
WHAT THE BRITS SEE: DESTRUCTION AND RICHARD BRANSON'S WINE CELLAR
The Brits see things in the Caribbean through unique eyes, still having some islands as territories. Hence the Daily Mail coverage of Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands. The destruction is widespread. Meanwhile, The Sun, as is its tabloid wont, always goes for the gory celebrity stuff. Hence its piece on Richard Branson hiding in his wine cellar on his private island of Necker as Hurricane Irma hit.
9/6/17, 8PM ET, WEDNESDAY
GAS SUPPLIES ARE DRYING UP IN FLORIDA AS EVACUATIONS SPREAD
The national average of gasoline prices soared 25 cents a gallon last week, the biggest weekly increase since 2005, says GasBuddy.com. That's totally due to Hurricane Harvey-related closures of and damage to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. But it's not prices that are vexing Floridians looking to gas up and evacuate. It's supply. GasBuddy says 25 percent of gas stations in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale are out of fuel. Nearly 20 percent of the stations across the peninsula in Fort Myers have run dry. Meanwhile, mandatory evacuation has now been ordered in parts of Miami-Dade County.
9/6/17, 7PM ET, WEDNESDAY
FAKE PRICE-GOUGING AND PHONY PRICE CAPS AT THE AIRLINES
As travelers gobbled up seats to fly out of Florida, airfares naturally shot up--and maybe a little more. Yield-management computers at United and Delta went berserk and repriced remaining seats at levels that could legitimately be considered price-gouging. It's hard to say if any seats were actually sold at rapacious prices and it certainly doesn't look like there was premeditated, human-being-imposed avarice at work. But several airlines then promptly went the other way. JetBlue and American capped all one-way flights out of Florida at $99 and Delta imposed a $399 one-way cap. The problem? It's hard to tell if any seats were sold at those prices because virtually all the seat inventory was already sold.
9/6/17, 6:30PM ET, WEDNESDAY
AMERICAN STARTS TO SHUT IT DOWN IN FLORIDA
American Airlines now says that it will shut down its massive hub at Miami on Friday afternoon and keep it shut for as long as it takes to weather the storm. Also closing Friday afternoon: all of American's operations at Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Sarasota and West Palm Beach. Flights scheduled to arrive Friday from Europe and South America have been cancelled. Moreover, American says flights from Orlando will end on Saturday afternoon.
9/6/17, 6:15PM ET, WEDNESDAY
BARBUDA WAS BASICALLY DESTROYED BY IRMA
The tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda, home to about 1,800 year-round residents, was overwhelmed by Hurricane Irma in the pre-dawn hours. Communications went dark and we're only now getting reports. Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, flew over the island this afternoon by helicopter and his assessment is chilling. He says 90 percent of the island's man-made structures and vehicles have been destroyed. ABC News has a more complete report.
9/6/17, 3PM ET, WEDNESDAY
IRMA IS 'BIGGER, FASTER, STRONGER' THAN HORRIFIC HURRICANE ANDREW
Hurricane Irma continues to spin meteorological records and prose superlatives. And, believe me, none of it is good.
Irma remains a Category 5 storm with sustained winds at 185 mph and gusts as high as 225 mph. It is battering the Virgin Islands and now is headed for Puerto Rico, where it may make landfall this evening. Earlier in the day and overnight, it whacked Anguilla, Barbuda and St. Martin.
Currently, the track of the storm would have it making landfall in South Florida in the early hours of Saturday morning, but the hurricane is so huge that first effects could be felt as early as Friday morning. The entire state may be impacted by the storm regardless of its specific track. The governor of South Carolina has also issued a state of emergency decree ahead of the storm.
Some bullet points on developments:
+ All airports in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands are closed. Princess Juliana International on St. Martin is closed and first pictures show extensive damage to the passenger terminal. At least one passenger bridge has collapsed.
+ San Juan Airport remains open, but about two-thirds of the schedule has already been cancelled. Wind gusts of about 50 miles per hour have been reported and that is right at the threshold when flights cannot safely operate. The island, which already suffers frequent power outages, is preparing for weeks without power.
+ The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos are preparing for storm surges of 15-20 feet.
+ Key West airport is closing shortly. All other airports in Florida are open, but departing flights are heavily booked. At least one airline (Delta) has deployed larger aircraft on Florida routes to accommodate passengers looking to evacuate.
+ To their credit, Floridians are not downplaying the potential catastrophe. (The apparent sole exception: The idiot Rush Limbaugh who yesterday claimed on radio that the "panic" was phony.) Grocery stores and home-improvement centers have run out of essentials although supplies are being rushed in. Long lines are reported at all shops selling supplies. Gasoline prices have risen precipitously although there are no reports of shortages.
+ Most of South Florida will be closed starting tomorrow. That includes state and county government offices and schools, which will be closed at least through the weekend. Most parks and attractions in South Florida have closed, too. The NFL is also moving Sunday's scheduled Miami-Tampa game to November 19. Not that the game is important, but I wanted you to know that everyone except the idiot Limbaugh is taking this seriously.
And serious is what we're talking about. This is only the fifth Atlantic storm in history to reach these wind levels. Florida Governor Rick Scott said this morning that Irma is "bigger, faster and stronger" than Hurricane Andrew, which wreaked proverbial havoc on the State in 1992. If Irma hits Florida directly, the damage will be massive.
A final note: I expect the airlines to continue flying out of South Florida airports until at least Friday morning. Given the dire predictions, carriers will want their aircraft out of harm's way so there will be added impetus to keep operating flights out of Florida for as long as safely possible.
Needless to say, I urge you to cancel all travel to Florida and expect to stay away for perhaps a week. If you are in South Florida, get out if you can. The state has suspended tolls on the road indefinitely and traffic is heavy, but moving without major delays. Local papers have stopped their paywalls, so please consult them for the appropriate evacuation routes and zones.
9/5/17, 8:30PM ET, TUESDAY
IRMA IS A MONSTER, A POWERFUL, DESTRUCTIVE MONSTER
Hurricane Irma is already the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in Atlantic waters. As Irma bears down on Caribbean islands, it is churning at 185 miles per hour. The Category 5 storm is 360 miles across.
Since we began keeping records, only three storms have made landfall in the United States as Category 5, the most recent being Andrew in 1992. Andrew hit Florida as Category 5, caused massive destruction and then hit Louisiana as Category 4. Before that, it was Camille in 1969, which made landfall on the shores of Mississippi and Louisiana at 190 miles per hour.
To their credit, Floridians don't seem to be taking this storm for granted even though it may be days away. Authorities in the Keys are calling for a mandatory evacuation tomorrow for both tourists and residents. The airport in Key West will close tomorrow at 7pm.
The major airlines have added some Florida destinations (mostly Orlando and South) to the travel waivers issued yesterday for the Caribbean Islands. The waivers vary substantially by validity date and destination so check carefully if you were planning to travel in the region in the next several days.
In short, if you were planning to travel to Florida in the days ahead, don't go. If you're visiting Florida, get out now. If you live in Florida, Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency for all 67 counties in the state. Tampa and Miami are already distributing bags for sand. Gasoline prices are rising quickly. Airfares for flights from South Florida are jumping even faster. On many routes, you'll find only the full, walk-up coach price or first class available.
The track of this storm is still up for debate. But several Caribbean destinations, including the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, will be affected tomorrow. Hispanola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), the Bahamas and Cuba could be hit Thursday. If there's landfall in Florida, it looks to be late Friday into Saturday morning.
Unlike Harvey, which was a devastating rainmaker, Irma is expected to bring the rain--and those insanely high winds, massive storm surges, tornadoes and more.
The so-called Cone of Uncertainty (no, that's not the name of the next James Bond or Star Trek movie) makes much of this speculative. What isn't speculative is that Irma will be destructive wherever it makes landfall. Plan accordingly.
9/4/17, 6:45PM ET, MONDAY
HOUSTON IMPROVES (A LITTLE), BUT NOW IRMA IS HEADED OUR WAY
The situation in Houston is improving slowly, but the newest weather "event," Hurricane Irma, is now a major concern in the Atlantic.
First, Houston. Water is receding in the region and roads are reopening, but, obviously, it will take months, perhaps years, for Southeast Texas to recover. From a flying standpoint, however, things are approaching something like normal. "Only" about 30 percent of the flights scheduled to operate today at Houston/Intercontinental have been cancelled, according to FlightAware.com. About 18 percent of the flights at Houston/Hobby have been dumped.
As for Hurricane Irma, it is now churning toward the Leeward Islands as a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 130 miles per hour. The latest update from the National Hurricane Center is here.
If the current track holds, the storm could reach mainland Florida over the weekend. But that is forever in weather time, so the concern now is the islands.
The U.S. carriers serving the Caribbean are out with travel waivers. Depending on the airline, they allow you to change flights from September 5 (tomorrow) until September 8 (Friday). Depending on the airline and the areas they serve, the covered regions include Puerto Rico, the US and British Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, Anguilla and Antigua. Southwest has extended its policies to include all of its destinations in the Caribbean and Central America. If you're traveling to the region in the next few days, check with your carrier for options and specifics.
9/4/17, 6PM ET, MONDAY
THE CATASTROPHIC STORM THAT CAME BEFORE
Hurricane Harvey hammered Southeast Texas and parts of Louisiana for days and it was considered the worst storm in recent memory. But that was before Irma, the monster that is setting records for size, speed and continuous intensity. We're still counting the cost of Harvey, both on the ground and to the main Houston carriers, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines. Complete details on how we covered developments are here.
This column is Copyright © 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.