Hurricane Irma Stripped the Green Right Off These Islands

Public Domain. Earth Observatory/NASA

NASA images show the remarkable transformation from verdant to bare as the northern Caribbean's vegetation proved no match for the storm.

Irma is a name that will be long remembered. A storm for the history books, she roared across the Atlantic Ocean, taking no prisoners and breaking all kinds of records along the way.

While images and video clips from the ground show the devastation on a human scale, now that clouds have cleared, images from space are showing the destruction from on high.

The natural-color image above (and detail below) were taken by NASA's Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite; The grim before and after photos were taken on August 25 and September 10, 2017. They are among the few relatively cloud-free satellite images of the area so far, NASA says.

Even though palm trees are wonderfully engineered to endure hurricanes, is anything really a match for the 185 miles per hour sustained winds winds of a category 5 hurricane like Irma? NASA explains that lush green tropical vegetation can be ripped away by a storm’s strong winds, leaving the satellite with a view of more bare ground. They also note that salt spray whipped up by the hurricane can coat and desiccate leaves while they are still on the trees; but seems to me like there probably aren't too many leaves left on trees to have this occur.

Irma islands

Earth Observatory/NASA/Public Domain

This close-up of Virgin Gorda (above) gives a more detailed look. "Note how some of the vegetation on the south and west of the island is a bit greener, likely because it was partly shielded from winds by the hills in the center," writes NASA. "Differences in ocean color likely stem from differences in the ocean surface; rougher surfaces scatter more light, and appear brighter and lighter."

Irma islands

Earth Observatory/NASA/Public Domain

Poor Barbuda took a direct hit and news reports speak of near-total devastation; the view from space corroborates that, at least where plant life is concerned. The images above were taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites.

And as Mother Nature is a capricious thing, Antigua appears to have been spared the deforestation/defoliation. With the storm’s center passing to the north, the island fared better all around; news reports say that electricity had been restored to most of the island, and the international airport reopened, by the next day. And as it seems from space, hopefully birds and other creatures on Antigua were able to return to their arboreal homes as well.