Hurricane Irma started hitting the Leeward Islands, the
chain of islands separating the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic
Ocean, early Wednesday.
By Sunday morning, the
storm had caused severe damage in Anguilla, Antigua and
Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, St. Martin, St.
Barthelemy, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Cuba.
The Category 4 storm made landfall in the Florida Keys
one of the
strongest Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded, started
slamming the southeastern Caribbean islands early Wednesday
with devastating winds, heavy rains, and catastrophic storm
10 a.m. Sunday morning, the
Category 4 storm was battering Key West,
Florida with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. The
National Hurricane Center said the hurricane was cruising
northwest at 8 mph.
“The threat of catastrophic storm surge flooding is highest along
the southwest coast of Florida, where 10 to 15 feet of inundation
above ground level is expected,” the NHC wrote on Saturday. “This
is a life-threatening situation and everyone in these areas
should immediately follow any evacuation instructions from local
The National Weather Service’s latest forecast puts the
entire state of Florida in the storm’s crosshairs, with Irma
lashing the Florida Keys and southern tip of the state on Sunday
The storm is expected to travel up the western side of the
peninsula on Sunday night and Monday, then head for Georgia and
Alabama on Tuesday. It could reach Missouri and Tennessee by
Wednesday and Thursday.
warnings are in effect around much of the Florida coast, from
Fernandina Beach south around the peninsula to Indian
Pass. The Florida Keys, Lake Okeechobee, Florida Bay, and
parts of Cuba are also under hurricane warnings.
Storm-surge warnings are in effect from North Miami Beach south
around the peninsula to the Ochlockonee River, as well as in the
Florida Keys and Tampa Bay. Those areas could face
“life-threatening inundation” from the quick rise in water caused
by a hurricane’s strong winds.
watch is in place along parts of Florida’s coasts, North of
Fernandina Beach to Edisto Beach.
Irma is now a Category 4 storm on the
Saffir-Simpson scale, which measures a hurricane’s strength
based on its wind speeds. The scale
goes up to 5, but if it had been extended to classify Irma’s
highest sustained wind speeds of 185 mph, the storm
could have been considered Category 6 at one point, though
that’s not an official designation.
The winds are churning up tornadoes, and
many counties in Florida are under tornado warnings, as well.
Part of what makes this storm so dangerous is its sheer size —
hurricane-force winds extend up to 80 miles from Irma’s center,
and tropical-storm-force winds extend up to 220 miles, according
to the NHC.
Florida’s peninsula is only about 140 miles across at its widest,
so Irma could engulf the entire state with its powerful winds.
— Rebecca Harrington (@HarringtonBecca) September 10, 2017
Irma’s storm surge and wave height could be devastating.
The National Hurricane Center suggests that if Irma hits Florida
at high tide, water levels there could rise 10 to 15 feet
above ground from Cape Sable to Captiva, 6 to 10 feet
from Captiva to Ana Maria Island, 5 to 10 feet in the
Florida Keys, 5 to 8 feet in and around Tampa Bay, 3 to 5
feet from North Miami Beach to Card Sound Bridge, 4 to 6 feet on
the east coast of Florida from South Santee River to
Fernandina Beach, 4 to 6 feet on the west coast of the state
from Clearwater Beach to Ochlockonee River, and 2 to 4 feet
from Fernandina Beach to Jupiter Inlet.
*ALERT: There is imminent danger of life-threatening, CATASTROPHIC storm surge for SW #Florida. If ordered to evacuate, do so immediately!
— NWS Miami (@NWSMiami) September 9, 2017
The NHC expects between 10 and 20 inches of rain in the
Florida Keys, with isolated areas getting up to 25. The southern
Florida peninsula can expect 10 to 15 inches, with some totals
reaching 20 inches of rain. Northern Florida into Georgia could
get 8 to 12 inches, with some areas seeing up to 16 inches of
Western Cuba could see an additional 3 to 6 inches, with some
areas getting up to 10. The western Bahamas could get another 2
to 4 inches, up to 6 inches of rain.
The rains could cause “life-threatening” flash flooding and
mudslides, the NHC says.
Threats to the US mainland
The NHC is forecasting Irma will make landfall in Florida as a
catastrophic hurricane on Sunday, and forecasters advise
residents to heed the
advice of local officials and get ready
if they are in the projected path of the storm. As of Saturday
morning, nearly 7 million people have been ordered to evacuate.
The Florida Keys and the southern tip of the state are the
most likely to see the worst effects of the storm before Irma
starts to weaken slowly after making landfall.
Forecasters aren’t positive yet how Irma will move up the US
mainland, though the models are indicating the storm could hit
Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and parts of Missouri and Arkansas.
“Since Irma is a large hurricane, [forecast] users are reminded
to not focus on the exact forecast track since tropical-storm and
hurricane-force winds and life-threatening storm surge extend far
from the center,” Daniel Brown, a senior hurricane specialist at
wrote on Tuesday.
“Everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have
plan in place.”
NOW WATCH: NASA footage shows a ‘potentially catastrophic’ Hurricane Irma that could make landfall in Florida
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