Hurricane Irma is an “extremely dangerous” Category 5, barreling toward the Greater Antilles and Southern Florida. It’s already the strongest hurricane ever recorded outside the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, and it’s likely to make landfall somewhere in Florida over the weekend.
If it does, the impact could be catastrophic.
The storm is life-threatening for the United States and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas. Hurricane warnings have been issued for portions of the Leeward Islands and the Greater Antilles, including Puerto Rico. A hurricane watch was issued for Hispaniola.
With maximum winds of 180 mph, Irma is the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean outside the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico. By wind speed, it’s the third-strongest storm on record anywhere in the Atlantic, behind Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and Hurricane Allen in 1980. And in its Tuesday morning discussion, the National Hurricane Center said the storm is in an environment “ideal for some additional intensification.”
The hurricane is expected to remain at least a Category 4 for the next few days with minor fluctuations in intensity. It could even become slightly stronger, but it is already nearing historical precedent and a theoretical limit for how strong it can get.
It cannot be overstated that Hurricane Irma is extremely dangerous and will produce the full gamut of hurricane hazards across the Caribbean and potentially in South Florida, including a devastating storm surge, destructive winds and dangerous flash flooding.
All of Florida — especially South Florida and the Keys — should be preparing for a major hurricane landfall on Sunday. Tropical-storm-force winds are expected to arrive as soon as Friday.
U.S. landfall threat
Computer models are in strong agreement that by Saturday, Irma will be approaching the Florida Keys — where dangerous storm conditions are likely. Then, they show a sharp northward turn by Sunday morning. The precise timing and location of the turn has huge implications for Florida.