On the Money

With Harvey's toll adding up, here's why people are 'really concerned' about Irma

Key Points
  • Harvey has walloped Houston, but now meteorologists are worried about Irma.
  • With the death and economic toll rising, Irma can inflict even more pain on the U.S.
Hurricane Harvey
Hurricane Harvey

Just over a week since Hurricane Harvey brought enormous damage to the Gulf region, meteorologists are watching another weather system that could possibly reach the U.S. and wreak even more havoc.

Irma, a storm system is currently hovering in the Atlantic Ocean, and is expected to strengthen over the Labor Day weekend, The Weather Company's senior meteorologist Dan Leonard told CNBC's "On The Money" in a recent interview.

"It's actually a Category 3 storm right now. If that happens to get in the Gulf of Mexico, it's unlikely, but if it does we'll be looking at some really significant problems next week and beyond," Leonard said. Several observers say Irma has the potential to grow into a Category 5 storm.

Leonard said he's been giving his forecasts to traders and, "they're really, really concerned about another potential hit into the Texas or Louisiana region going forward."

Flooding resulting from Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas.
Harriet Taylor | CNBC

While Hurricane Katrina had 17 inches of rain, Harvey dumped more than 51 inches of rain on beleaguered Houston. Still, the death toll has been comparatively lower: Katrina caused 1,833 deaths, while Harvey has resulted in at least 41 deaths.

"The really important takeaway here is even though we had a lot more death toll in New Orleans, this flood hit a much bigger economic center of the U.S, and I think that's really what we're going to feel as repercussions go."

Estimates of Harvey's economic toll are high and rising: This week, research from Fundstrat suggested uninsured losses could easily top $200 billion, while Accuweather estimated Harvey's toll could easily top $190 billion—more than Katrina and 2012's Sandy combined.

Weather Company's Leonard said it was the flooding that made Harvey different from other hurricanes, including Hurricane Katina in 2005. "We had big flooding in Katrina, but that was largely caused by that levy breach" that devastated New Orleans.

Right now, Hurricane Harvey is impacting gas prices modestly as refineries in the region have been taken offline. However, Leonard warned a "25 to 30 cents or so" increase won't be the only price hike.

"We're obviously paying more, not just at the gas pump, but remember the refining process also makes other products: It makes jet fuel, it makes petroleum products like plastics," Lee said. "So I think overall you're going to be looking at higher prices pretty much everywhere across the board."

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