Engineer casts doubts on Hurricane Irma’s strength

A local engineering consultant has cast doubt on the strength of the winds from Hurricane Irma that affected several other northern caribbean territories in September.

At the same time, Director of Consulting Engineers Partnership (CEP) Tony Gibbs is warning that Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean must upgrade their buildings codes to withstand category five hurricanes.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, had stated that when Irma struck Barbuda, and later, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Franco-Dutch island of St Martin and the United States Virgin Islands, it was packing dangerous category five winds.

This was widely accepted, particularly considering the extent of the damage suffered by all those countries.

However, speaking this morning at the Courtyard by Marriott where the Barbados Town Planning Society held a symposium to observe World Town Planning Day, Gibbs said it was accepted in the international scientific community that the National Hurricane Center often overestimates the strength of hurricanes.

In fact, he said contrary to initial reports Puerto Rico hardly ever felt category five winds.

“When hurricane Irma struck Barbuda it was described as a Category 5 hurricane, and recently we have been doing a more detailed analysis of wind speeds of the hurricanes of 2017. Scientifically the information is quite different from what we have been getting from the National Hurricane Center.

“You can say that Barbuda did experience a category 5 hurricane. However, when you look at the actual data for Puerto Rico, even though it was reported that the island was hit by a category 5 hurricane, only a small portion of the island actually experienced close to category 3 to 4 winds. The majority of the territory was hit by category 2, [category] 1 and tropical storm winds,” the engineering consultant explained.

Despite the strength of the storm, Gibbs acknowledged that it did considerable damage to infrastructure, something he said the region must take into consideration.

In this context Gibbs warned that Caribbean countries should build to withstand category five winds since the data analysis shows that the region was in for even more severe weather systems in the next decade as a result of climate change.

“The combination of greenhouse warming and natural variability will produce unprecedented cyclones and weather activity in the coming decade in the Caribbean, so we are in for some exciting times . . . .Category 2 buildings like your homes, hotels and general office buildings must adjust for a 13 per cent increase in wind speeds to cater for climate change in the Eastern Caribbean. The category 3 and 4 buildings, which are the more important buildings in the community, such as hospitals, already cater for very strong gusts, but still we must adjust the codes by a further ten per cent,” Gibbs said.

While not going into the possible added cost, the CEP official explained that the value of such building codes were seen in Dominica where schools that were built to withstand category 5 hurricanes after the passage of Hurricane David in 1979, withstood Hurricane Maria 38 years later.

32 Responses to Engineer casts doubts on Hurricane Irma’s strength

  1. Felicia Trotman
    Felicia Trotman November 8, 2017 at 11:50 pm

    He should stick to his profession. Irma’s most powerful winds would not extend extremely far from the center…sigh

    • Santiago Ibarguen
      Santiago Ibarguen November 9, 2017 at 12:39 am

      That is his profession! He is a one of the worlds most renowned Winds engineer!

    • Bonita Weekes
      Bonita Weekes November 9, 2017 at 12:54 am

      Having gone through one myself, I don’t mind what he say, he seems to be saying that wind speeds were less. I saw things happen that were unbelievable. I know of persons who went to a Dr and were told they were doing good but died a few days later. The Dr nor the Wind Engineer does not know every thing.

    • Felicia Trotman
      Felicia Trotman November 9, 2017 at 2:08 am

      Santiago Ibarguen no one is arguing that the wind was at that speed in those locations…it is a meteorological fact that the maximum wind speeds dont extend outward fully

      Even the nhc wind history shows that puerto rico was spared a major hit…as was known since Irma hit in early September…I dont see why he needs to come and talk about this…he is only repeating what was widely known to have occurred to people who paid attention to the meteorological history

    • Seth St John
      Seth St John November 9, 2017 at 5:39 am

      Cat 5 wind speeds would mostly be in the eye wall, and only extend a few miles out, then taper off gradually. but unless he is saying that the raw dropsonde data is false… hmn.. we have all seen category 2 damage, barbuda damage surpassed that by far..

      • O. Walrond November 9, 2017 at 10:42 am

        The eye of a storm is the most calm part. You would never find Cat. 5 winds there.

        • harry turnover November 9, 2017 at 2:41 pm

          The man said the EYE WALL…everybody knows the winds are CALM INSIDE THE EYE…thats’ where the Aircraft go into
          The EYE WALL carries the STRONGEST WINDS.

    • Felicia Trotman
      Felicia Trotman November 9, 2017 at 4:04 pm

      Correct Seth

  2. Bonita Weekes
    Bonita Weekes November 9, 2017 at 12:46 am

    So Mr Gibbs you want to tell us that a cat 2 or 3 did all that damage? The professionals can get together after the fact and talk what they like but the fact remains that several islands suffered severe damage. Are you saying that the houses were poorly built and that’s why? That would mean that we don’t stand a chance in a cat 2 hurricane. Tomas passed 100 miles north of Barbados and look how it affected some of us. When an Island gets a direct hit hit from a hurricane the wind speeds do not remain the same through out the event. I experienced one that the met office said was cat 4 but other persons living there and who know about such things said that we were also getting cat 5 winds. Fresh in my mind is the sound of that wind, so I don’t understand how a 2 or 3 would have done that damage to Barbuda. I can bet that most of those so called experts have never experienced the real thing. They talk after things happen going only on what they were taught. I think you should let the weather people do their job.

    • Mickell Als
      Mickell Als November 9, 2017 at 6:22 am

      Tomas passed 22 miles south, we passed thru it’s forming northwestern eyewall.but you are correct. yes the winds in barbuda were sustained at cat 3. The NOAA station on the island showed 119mph. he isn’t taking into account t method used to calculate maximum sustained winds. If a storm can easily sustain such winds in the southern eyewall then more than likely it has winds much much much stronger sustained in the north. So his claims as you said are invalid. And the wind damage from storms comes not from the sustained wind shut the incredible bursts or gusts that overwhelm structures. Irma had gusts of 200mph in Tortola But sustained winds of a cat 4. He as an “engineer” should know this

  3. Derek November 9, 2017 at 5:21 am

    I wouldn’t rely to such rubbish . Shame on Barbados Today for even publishing this nonsense

  4. Tony Webster November 9, 2017 at 5:24 am

    Hmmm… please folks, let us not nit-pick. Taking the wider view, remember how the li’l guy, Tomas, whacked us here? The real take-aways from engineer Gibbs’ review, are these incontrovertibles :-
    1. Global warming and more severe and frequent severe WX events will be coming, and everyone but one idiot in Washington knows this.
    2: We need to review our building codes.
    3. We need to implement the revised codes.
    4. We need to offer up prayers of thanks, at the end of each “season” which we pass though unscathed.

    Like…postpone that new vehicle…strengthen your roof; get shutters made; and install a nice big water tank.

  5. Cherylann Bourne-Hayes
    Cherylann Bourne-Hayes November 9, 2017 at 5:54 am

    Northeast quadrant of a hurricane is where it is the worst as well

  6. Hazel Harrison
    Hazel Harrison November 9, 2017 at 6:30 am

    does he work at the met office…i realize as soon as people get a lil degree they feel they know everything…where were you when the bulletins were being circulated…

  7. Claire Battershield
    Claire Battershield November 9, 2017 at 6:52 am

    Point is places get mash up. Nature was having it’s way. Category 1,2 or 5 places were decimated hot hit hard.

  8. Johnathan November 9, 2017 at 7:24 am

    A bunch of nonsense whether they over or under estimate the whole place get blow down. Wunnah looking to expense and rip off people more .

  9. ZeeWee November 9, 2017 at 7:50 am

    The point surely is that We all need to strengthen our properties where we can and add protection for windows…we need these discussions to take place so new advisories can come forth ..
    (.we must also keep around us tidy , trees trimmed , no loose bits of wood lying around etc… )
    I really feel very strongly that items directly used for hurricane preparedness… hurricane straps, shutters, generators etc should be made available to the public without any import duties or taxes…surely better have a country prepared than all the extra costs we will al be forced to pay our after . This should be another top priority for governments in the region .

  10. harry turnover November 9, 2017 at 8:08 am

    Tony Gibbs stick to wha you know.You are one of MANY who think that a Hurricane or storm is a POINT.
    Gibbs said it was accepted in the international scientific community that the National Hurricane Center often overestimates the strength of hurricanes…WHERE,WHEN ?
    Do those in the International scientific community have the resources that the NHC possesses and do you know that often the same NHC UNDERESTIMATES the STRENGTH of SYSTEMS before the aircraft goes into eye ?
    Gibbs you and others who think like you should READ ALL the bulletins when a system approaches and I mean ALL.
    and you go on to say recently WE have been doing a more detailed analysis of wind speeds of the hurricanes of 2017. Scientifically the information is quite different from what we have been getting from the National Hurricane Center.
    So who is” WE “and do” WE ” have ALL the DATA and equipment to do a more DETAILED analysis than the NHC ?
    Tony Gibbs… a Hurricane packing winds of 155 mph is a category 4 Hurricane and one packing winds of 156 is a category 5.and just like how ENGINEERS do ESTIMATES the folks at the NHC ALWAYS say that the winds are ESTIMATED to be such and such.
    What have you CONFUSED is that you are looking at the winds that were ESTIMATED just before it slammed Barbuda …185mph FORGETTING that ANYTHING GREATER than 155 mph is a CATEGORY 5.

    • harry turnover November 9, 2017 at 8:49 am

      Tony Gibbs YOU ARE AN ENGINEER and YOU have done MANY MANY ESTIMATES on work that YOU were about to undertake
      In your opinion Barbuda which lost 90% of its infrastructure and where most of the population had to be evacuated to Antigua was not struck by a Category 5 Hurricane.
      You can’t be SURE when YOU do your ENGINEERING ESTIMATES,but in this case YOU ARE SURE that it was not a 156 mph Hurricane but in FACT was a 155 mph Hurricane.

  11. harry turnover November 9, 2017 at 8:54 am


  12. Kathrine Kirton-Murrell
    Kathrine Kirton-Murrell November 9, 2017 at 9:08 am

    What point are you really trying to prove Sir. Are you saying thar it could have worse than how it was or better. Either way it was devastating to the people that it affected regardless of its strength. So…

  13. Cat Rock
    Cat Rock November 9, 2017 at 9:35 am

    Where he blow in from *no pun intended*

  14. Rachel Barbados
    Rachel Barbados November 9, 2017 at 9:51 am

    my whole life he has dedicated his life to promoting the highest building standards possible … to the detriment of his kids

  15. F.A.Rudder November 9, 2017 at 10:26 am

    To the general Barbados Today public and contributors , there is an International Building Codes manual for structures, highways, Seaports , Airports and housing which is published in Washington D.C and circulated by order. This manual prescribes standards for all civil engineering construction. All formulas prescribed for applications are inscribed and dataed; with such a manual all preparations and activities are listed coherently and simplified.

  16. Glenford Ashley
    Glenford Ashley November 9, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    One thing is for certain our Islands got hit very badly. Our people lost so much.

  17. jrsmith November 9, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    What our politicians and bajan people should do is to thank our lucky stars, instead of talking rubbish, our politicians should be building proper under ground shelter in each parish equiped and prepare for what will happen one day no one knows when…..

  18. Andre November 9, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    The headline is missing the main point which is that we need to design to higher standards.

  19. Remington Lake November 9, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    Mr Engineer you should have left the comfort of your home in Barbados and come over to Anguilla and experience Irma before you begin to chat rubbish. I experience every hurricane that pass Anguilla from Donna of 1960 up to Irma of 2017. Irma was the mother of all hurricanes. Please stop right there Mr Engineer.

  20. Big Fish November 9, 2017 at 9:42 pm

    Gibbs you are right, it was not a category 5, it should be a category 6 if there was one. We here I Anguilla was hit by a cat 5 in 1995 (LUIS) that slam us for 36 hours, Irma slam us for 5 hours and did damage to the island unheard of. My advice to you Gibbs, go get a real JOB.

    Thank you

  21. Belfast November 9, 2017 at 10:06 pm

    The man is an experienced and practical engineer. Not a politician or a classroom engineer, and anything he says should be taken seriously.
    There is an old saying in the Brit military. Come up with a better idea, or keep ya frigging mouth shut.

  22. Experienced It November 11, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    Unless you experienced it or you are in a country that is still trying to pick up the pieces after the Hurri-Nado that passed through aka Irma, then…….

  23. Was in audience November 12, 2017 at 9:56 pm

    The headlines are very misleading. His point was that Puerto Rico had a small strip in the north east that has cat 3, and the majority was cat 2, 1 and trop. Storm. Yet they had tremendous damage. Be warned and be more prepared.


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