- Hurricane Irma has slammed into several Caribbean islands as a “potentially catastrophic” Category 5 storm.
- The National Hurricane Center’s projected path shows Irma arriving in South Florida over the weekend.
- Gov. Rick Scott of Florida has activated the state’s National Guard, and the Florida Keys have ordered mandatory evacuations. Miami is also considering evacuations.
- President Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency for Florida in anticipation of the storm’s effects.
A week after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, devastating Texas with torrential flooding, Hurricane Irma — the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history — has begun steamrolling several Caribbean Islands.
Such damage was observed on Wednesday in Barbuda island, which is part of Antigua. The Associated Press reports that fierce winds there lifted off the roof of a police station, prompting officers to take shelter in a nearby fire station.
Antigua and Barbuda told residents to seek shelter from Irma’s “onslaught” in a statement that, according to the AP, closed with: “May God protect us all.”
What’s more, the National Hurricane Center now projects the centerline of the Category 5 storm down the middle of Florida in its latest forecast.
Though it’s too soon to say for certain where the storm will go, the forecast strongly suggests Irma will slam into South Florida as a major hurricane this weekend. As a result, US and state officials are now urging people to ready their emergency plans and supplies.
“We do not know the exact path of this storm, but weather can change in an instant, and while we hope for the best, we must prepare for the worst,” Gov. Rick Scott of Florida said in a Tuesday statement.
Irma formed off the coast of western Africa last week and almost immediately started barreling toward the Caribbean Sea. Irma officially became a named storm on August 30 and was classified as a hurricane the next day. Since then, it has gained and maintained strength from the moisture of unusually warm waters in Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
The Category 5 label means Irma has maximum sustained winds of above 157 mph near its core. The latest “hurricane hunter” airplane measurements suggest the storm’s maximum sustained winds now top 185 mph, though gusts have been recorded in excess of 215 mph. This makes Irma as powerful as a severe tornado, which can tear off roofs, level homes, toss cars, overturn trains, and uproot large trees.
Irma also threatens the Caribbean and US with storm surge — a crest of water formed ahead of a storm by powerful winds. The NHC suggests the Bahamas, for example, may see a storm surge with a height of 20 feet above a typical high tide, though forecasts differ greatly among regions.
“Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Irma is forecast to remain a powerful Category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days,” the NHC said in a public advisory on Wednesday. It also called Irma a “potentially catastrophic” hurricane and advised that preparations “should be rushed to completion” in the hurricane warning area.
Those warning areas include the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, where the storm could begin to arrive Wednesday evening, according to forecasts.
Possible landfall in the US
Forecasters don’t yet know whether Irma will make landfall in the US, let alone as such a powerful storm. But the latest computer models are not comforting.
Two of the most predictive models show that South Florida and Miamimay be in Irma’s path. If this scenario plays out, tropical-storm-force winds could reach the Florida Peninsula as soon as Friday or Saturday evening.
“It’s way too early to say for sure if Irma is going to have any impacts on the United States, but anytime the forecast models are predicting a potentially strong hurricane headed northwest across the tropical Atlantic, I’d pay attention,” Phil Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University who specializes in Atlantic hurricane forecasts, told Business Insider last week.
To prepare for Irma, Florida Gov. Scott ordered all 7,000 members of the state’s National Guard to report for duty on Friday morning. Miami-Dade County is also considering evacuating its lowest-lying areas prone to storm surge.
The Florida Keys, meanwhile, are closing schools and have issued a mandatory evacuation order for all visitors and residents starting Wednesday morning.
President Donald Trump also declared states of emergency in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands on Tuesday evening to free up federal resources for a major response to the storm’s impact.