Capital Weather Gang • Perspective
We still don’t know how to talk about floods
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Hurricane Irma is literally pulling the ocean away from shorelines

Video from Long Island in the Bahamas shows a dry shoreline as a result of Hurricane Irma. (Video: Adrian Wells/ViralHog)

This story has been updated.

As a meteorologist, there are things you learn in textbooks that you may never see in person. You know they happen theoretically, but the chances of seeing the most extraordinary weather phenomena are slim to none.

This is one of those things — a hurricane strong enough to change the shape of an ocean.

Twitter user @Kaydi_K shared a video Saturday afternoon that quickly went viral. I knew right away that even though it seemed impossible, it was absolutely legit.

“I am in disbelief right now…” she wrote. “This is Long Island, Bahamas and the ocean water is missing!!!”

Hurricane Irma’s winds are so strong, it’s pulling water away from the shoreline. It happened in the Bahamas on Friday and Saturday, and now it’s happening on the Gulf Coast of Florida on Sunday.

‘Never seen anything like it’: Governor issues new warning as Florida sees first signs of Hurricane Irma’s winds and rain

On Saturday, the wind on Long Island in the Bahamas was blowing from southeast to northwest. So on the northwest side of the island, water was getting pushed away from the shoreline.

On the Gulf Coast of Florida, winds were out of the east on Sunday, which pushed water west and away from the coast.

At the same time, some locations may be experiencing the effects of the hurricane “bulge.” In the center of the storm, where the pressure is lowest and the winds are converging, water piles up. Low pressure is basically a sucking mechanism in the sense that it draws the air inward. When the pressure is exceptionally low and the winds are very strong, it can create a bulge of ocean water under the center of the storm.

In any case, the missing water isn’t the sign of a tsunami. The water returned to Long Island on Saturday. On the Florida Gulf Coast, it will be back after the center of the storm passes north of the location.

The best advice is to not venture out onto the dry seabed. You don’t want to be there when the water returns.

As Hurricane Irma barrels toward Florida, residents are doing what they can to prepare their homes. (Video: Thomas Johnson, Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

Hurricane Irma hammers Florida

NAPLES, FL - SEPTEMBER 09: Jordan Alvarez hugs his mother Katie as they stand on the beach in Naples before the arrival of Hurricane Irma arrives into Southwest Florida on September 9, 2017 in Naples, Florida. The Naples area could begin to feel hurricane-force winds from Irma by 11 a.m. Sunday and experience wind gusts over 100 mph from Sunday through Monday. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Read the latest Hurricane Irma coverage:

This story was updated to clarify the meteorological process at work in these photos.