Irma is among the largest hurricanes in living memory but it also might just be the most technologically-supported, too, as Copybook reports.
From trackers to aid providers, a plethora of systems are hard at work out there as technology gives us unprecedented coverage of the most devastating hurricane of our times.
Firstly, though, a summary of events as they’ve unfolded over the past few days.
Hurricane Irma initially decimated Caribbean island Barbuda, flattening all but five per cent of its infrastructure and displacing an entire population. It then moved on to the British Virgin Islands, where widespread damage was wreaked and five lives were lost. It remained, at this stage, a Category 5 hurricane: the highest level on the US National Hurricane Center’s five-point scale.
Continuing its journey, Irma next arrived in Cuba as a Category 4 hurricane. Fatalities reached 10 or more and evacuation took place en masse. The Bahamas were little-impacted but then came Hurricane Irma’s Florida damage. Miami wasn’t directly hit but Tampa and Orlando experienced massive power outages.
Ultimately, though, Irma lacked the sheer firepower of Hurricane Andrew that struck Florida 25 years ago. “Irma and Andrew were as different as two hurricanes can be”, Weather Channel meteorologist Bryan Norcross told the Washington Post. “The damage in Irma is significantly less intense, but it is vastly more widespread.”
“We don’t really have all the damage assessments from where Irma’s core hit, but from the pictures I’ve seen…the major structures are still standing”, added ex-National Hurricane Center director Max Mayfield. “I’m thanking God that we didn’t have more.”
Traditional news report – both on and offline – social media updates and, of course, the numerous Irma tracking systems have all helped us chart its progress and, for those in its path, prepare accordingly. So that’s the monitoring side but how has technology come to the rescue?
Tesla and Uber are just two of the firms that have provided pre- or post-Irma aid. Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, released new range-extending software for most of its vehicles on 8 September. The software adds up to 40 miles onto standard range, enabling drivers to put much more distance between them and storms.
Global ride-sharing provider Uber ran a free Irma evacuation service until, in Florida at least, it become unsafe, while an app named Zello surged in popularity. Zello replicates ‘old-school’ walkie-talkies, providing two-way communications via push-button presses. For rescuers and stranded victims, it’s proved an invaluable resource and, earlier this month, topped the iOS App Store’s free download charts. Amidst millions of new sign-ups, the company had to enlist 18 additional servers to manage demand.
Now a post-tropical cyclone, Irma ploughs on northwest. According to the National Weather Service’s latest update, it was expected to hit the Tennessee Valley on 12 September. Continually winding down in strength, it’ll bring up to four inches of rain to the area but hopefully little real damage.
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