Texas and Louisiana are still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey, but already another storm has the U.S. in its sights. Hurricane Irma has strengthened to become a Category 5 storm and now is pushing on into the northern part of the Lesser Antilles on a path that’s expected to eventually take it to Florida.
Hurricane Irma is now “extremely dangerous”
Before Hurricane Irma reaches Florida, it will churn through the Caribbean. According to The Washington Post, the storm is the strongest hurricane outside the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean in the National Hurricane Center’s recorded history. It’s also tied for second place in terms of strength of storms recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.
Meteorologists recorded maximum wind speeds of 185 miles per hour; for comparison, hurricanes need maximum sustained winds of only 157 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center. On Tuesday, the center warned that Irma is churning through an area where it’s “ideal for some additional intensification.” The National Weather Service described Irma as “an extremely dangerous” storm, and weather officials expect it to stay at either Category 4 or 5 strength for the coming days as it churns through the Caribbean, reports The New York Times.
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Where will Hurricane Irma strike?
Forecasters say the first areas Hurricane Irma will hit include Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Authorities have issued hurricane warnings for Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the northern part of the Leeward Islands. They have issued a hurricane watch for the southeastern part of the Bahamas and Hispaniola.
At this time, it’s still too early for meteorologists to predict precisely the path Hurricane Irma will take as it rolls through the Caribbean, but wherever it makes landfall, the damage and loss of life will likely be catastrophic. The Leeward Islands are expected to begin experiencing life-threatening rain, wind and storm surges tonight. After churning through the northeastern part of the Leeward Islands, forecasters expect Irma to smash into Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands tomorrow.
State of emergency declared in Florida
Hurricane Irma isn’t expected to reach Florida until the weekend, and with days to go before landfall on the U.S. mainland, storm trackers have a few possible paths it could take. However, their best estimates right now put landfall on the mainland in southern Florida.
Gov. Rick Scott isn’t waiting until a more exact storm path can be determined, as he already declared a state of emergency for all of the 67 counties in the state. He said in a statement that Floridians must be prepared for Hurricane Irma because it’s “a major and life-threatening storm.” He also tweeted that he’s been in contact with President Donald Trump, who “offered the full resources of the federal government” as the state prepares for Irma.
Evacuations imminent in Florida
Coast Guard crews and rescue teams were only just returning to their bases after assisting with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, but they’re already being dispatched to Florida to help the state’s residents prepare for Irma, a spokesperson for the Coast Guard told The New York Times. The National Weather Service is urging Floridians to prepare for Hurricane Irma now. The service also said that those in Puerto Rico, the Leeward Islands and the Virgin Islands should rush to get their plans in place because landfall on those islands is imminent.
Florida officials are already urging the state’s residents to evacuate, according to The Washington Post, and Miami Dade County Major Carlos Gimenez said that they could start ordering evacuations by Wednesday. He described Hurricane Irma as “far too powerful,” adding that it “poses far too great a threat” to delay action any longer. Miami Dade County is home to 2.7 million people.
High storm surges forecast with Hurricane Irma
Meteorologists warn that the peak storm surge could coincide with high tide at the affected islands, which may raise the water levels to between seven and 11 feet above ground level in the Virgin Islands and on the northern shore of the Leeward Islands. On northern Puerto Rico, waters could rise to between three and five feet above ground level.
The National Weather Service is expecting between eight and 12 inches of rain on the northern part of the Leeward Islands and say that there could be local rainfall totals of up to 18 inches. Four to 10 inches of rain are forecast for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, with local rainfall totals potentially going as high as 15 inches.
The service also tweeted that Hurricane Irma isn’t the last major threat right now. Tropical Storm Jose has now developed in the Atlantic Ocean, and it’s expected to strengthen to hurricane status later this week.