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Hurricane Irma's Enormous Cloud Field Would Cover All Of New South Wales

It's twice the size of Yasi, the biggest tropical cyclone in recent Australian history.

08/09/2017 1:35 PM AEST | Updated 08/09/2017 1:35 PM AEST
Google Earth/NOAA/HuffPost
We repeat: this is not actually happening in NSW.

Hurricane Irma is fierce. On Thursday (AEDT) it became the first Atlantic storm with winds raging at 300 km/h or stronger for 24 hours. By Friday morning, that was at 37 hours and counting.

Hurricane Irma is also huge. Just how frighteningly big is this monster? CNN posted a fascinating graphic showing the extent of the cloud field, which showed it was the size of Texas.

Irma's cloud field size of roughly 300,000 m² translates to 777,000 km². Texas is almost 700,000 km², so the storm would indeed cover it, were it headed in that direction (which it's not -- Irma is an Atlantic storm which appears to be en route to Florida).

So how big is this in the Australian context? Well, the state of New South Wales is the closest Aussie state in size to Texas, at around 800,000 km². So Irma would pretty much cover the whole of NSW, give or take.

The hurricane is of course changing size, but was as wide as 1200 km at one stage this week. Again to use NSW as a guide, that's pretty much an east-west span of the state from Sydney to Broken Hill.

This image is an indication only, but it gives you a pretty good idea of the size of Irma.

Google Earth/NOAA/HuffPost
Don't panic, everybody. There's not really a storm like this over the state right now.

Here's another perspective on Irma. Cyclone Yasi in 2011 -- the biggest cyclone to hit Australia in recent years -- was half Irma's width at 600 km. Cyclone Debbie in March this year was similar in size.

Helen H. Richardson via Getty Images
While some of the swirling arms of cloud extend over a vast area, the cyclonic-strength part of Yasi are clearly much smaller than Irma.

It's worth noting that while larger storms tend to pack stronger winds, the size of a tropical storm is not entirely related to its destructive power.

One of Australia's most destructive storms was Cyclone Tracy, which devastated Darwin in 1974. Tracy had consistent winds well over 200 km/h, yet its gale-force winds extended no more than 50km from the centre.

For the record, the largest ever recorded tropical storm was Super Typhoon Tip (cyclones and hurricanes are called typhoons in Asia). It measured approximately 2200 km across.

Had it been over America, it would have stretched from Dallas to New York City. Had it been over Australia, it would have stretched almost from Adelaide to Brisbane. Beast.

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