One of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in recent years has made landfall in the Caribbean, and most forecaster models now show Hurricane Irma headed for Florida.
Irma’s eye passed over the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda early Wednesday morning. The “extremely dangerous” storm has maximum sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, with hurricane-force winds extending some 50 miles from storm’s center.
“Irma is a potentially catastrophic category 5 hurricane and will bring life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall hazards to portions of the northern Leeward Islands, including the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, today,” said National Hurricane Center forecaster Jack Beven. “Preparations should be rushed to completion.”
Forecasters expect Irma to continue battering Caribbean Islands before making it to Florida this weekend. “The extremely dangerous core of Irma will move over portions of the northern Virgin Islands today, pass near or just north of Puerto Rico this afternoon or tonight, and pass near or just north of the coast of the Dominican Republic Thursday,” NHC forecasters said Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday evening, Fla. Gov. Rick Scott announced that President Trump had granted his request to declare a pre-landfall emergency for the state. “This will free up much-needed federal funding and assistance as we prepare for Irma,” Scott said at an evening press conference.
The NHC’s official track predicts a south Florida landfall sometime on Sunday, with the latest models shifting eastward and predicting the storm could parallel the state’s Atlantic coastline. NHC forecasters cautioned that the storm’s path is still unclear and that the “cone of uncertainty” could include a shift westward into the Gulf of Mexico or a shift further to the east.
“The chance of direct impacts from Irma beginning later this week and this weekend from wind, storm surge, and rainfall continues to increase in the Florida Keys and portions of the Florida Peninsula,” Beven said. “However, it is too soon to specify the timing and magnitude of these impacts.”
“It is important for all Floridians to keep an eye on this incredibly dangerous storm,” said Gov. Scott. “Do not sit and wait to prepare. Get prepared now. This storm has the potential to devastate this state and you have to take it seriously.”
— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) September 5, 2017
Local officials are continuing to monitor the storm’s track and to prepare for possible impacts.
“We are aware of the weather forecast and we are taking necessary precautions,” City of Pensacola officials said Tuesday.
“While Hurricane Irma may not come our way, our residents should take the time now to double-check their storm supplies and preparations so that when a confirmed threat develops, they are ready,” Escambia County officials said.