MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
For more on what's happening now, we want to check in with the National Hurricane Center, which has been tracking Hurricane Irma from the beginning. And now, they're also keeping a close watch on Hurricane Jose. Ed Rappaport is the acting director of the National Hurricane Center. We reached him in Miami. Ed Rappaport, thank you so much for speaking with us.
ED RAPPAPORT: Thank you.
MARTIN: What can you tell us about the kind of storm Hurricane Irma is turning out to be? Are there unusual features of the storm that you can tell us about besides sort of the terrifying imagery that we're all seeing already?
RAPPAPORT: We already set some records in the past few days with how strong it was. It's no where near that intensity now, but it is important in that it's the first substantial hurricane to move up the Florida peninsula in more than 50 years. It was back in 1960, which was Hurricane Donna - caused much damage. But we have far more infrastructure and many more people in Florida now and a lot more people being affected adversely.
MARTIN: You know, we've also been seeing these videos online showing water being completely sucked away from the shorelines, the first occurrence in Long Island, Bahamas, then in Tampa Bay. It basically looks as though these bodies of water have been drained. Can you tell us what is going on there?
RAPPAPORT: They are north of the center of the storm. And the winds go around the storm in a counter-clockwise direction. So they're blowing offshore from the land to the water. And it's pushing the water out to sea. The problem is that once the center goes by, the winds shift to the other direction, and all that water comes back plus more. And we've seen people out there in the bay. The problem is that they're very vulnerable. We had another hurricane many, many years ago in Miami, where people went out in the eye because the water had gone down. They went out to take a look, and the surge came in, and many drowned. So we need to get people away from the water. It may well be low now - record low now, but it will be record high in a few hours.
MARTIN: And as we said, Florida's in the thick of Hurricane Irma right now, but there's also Hurricane Jose right behind it. Can you tell us what's happening there?
RAPPAPORT: Yeah. Jose is out fairly far in the Atlantic. And it appears to be no direct threat to the United States.
MARTIN: Well, that's good to hear. I hear a lot of activity behind you. It's got to be all hands on deck right now at the Hurricane Center. Can you just give us a sense of what's it like for you?
RAPPAPORT: It's been obviously very busy for us - for a number of days. But this came right on the heels of Harvey, so we've been doing it for a - full-go for a few weeks now. We - because we're in Miami, we have a shelter in place. We've been here now for more than 24 hours, and we'll remain for another 12 hours until the winds die down. And we're really proud of the staff here, did a fabulous job.
MARTIN: And do you mind if I ask - I think a lot of people would be interested in this - how is it that you're able to stay in Miami? Do you have reinforced buildings? Or do you have - are your - are you personally safe? I think that's a question that a lot of people would have for people who are remaining in Miami.
RAPPAPORT: Yes. And it's actually - we talked about the scale of 1 to 5. It's called the Saffir-Simpson scale. Its name comes, in part, from Herb Saffir, who was a structural engineer. And he designed this building - or participated in the design and made it to withstand Category 5. So we feel very safe here. No problems whatsoever.
MARTIN: Well, that's Ed Rappaport. He's the acting director of the National Hurricane Center. We reached him in Miami. Ed Rappaport, we thank you very much for your hard work. And we thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us when you're as busy as you are.
RAPPAPORT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.