Instead, expectations are the storm will track up the West coast of Florida towards Tampa. Winds died down to 125 MPH over Cuba, making Irma category 3, but the models expect Irma to be category 4 when it strikes Southern Florida.
After blasting the northern Caribbean, deadly Hurricane Irma will turn toward the United States, unleashing destructive winds, flooding rain and inundating seas across Florida through the weekend.
“Unfortunately, there is no way the United States is going to avoid another catastrophic weather event,” Dr. Joel N. Myers, founder, president and chairman of AccuWeather said.
“There will be massive damage in Florida. [It will be] the worst single hurricane to hit Florida since Hurricane Andrew in 1992,” Myers said.
Preparations should already be completed across the Sunshine State.
The current track of Irma will bring severe and life-threatening impacts to all of the Florida Keys and a large portion of the Florida Peninsula, including Key West, Key Largo, Tampa, Fort Myers, Naples, Sarasota and Miami.
After the center of Irma tracked along the northern coast of Cuba Saturday morning, Irma became a Category 3 hurricane.
AccuWeather meteorologists are still concerned that once Irma begins to turn north and head over the warm water of the Florida Straits, Irma will restrengthen. Regardless, Irma remains a powerful hurricane.
Irma is projected to be at Category 4 strength when it makes landfall initially across the Keys and then southwest Florida on Sunday morning. Wind gusts past 140 mph in these areas could lead to a swath of catastrophic damage.
Irma had sustained 185-mph winds for 37 hours, the longest any cyclone in the world has maintained such intensity. Super Typhoon Haiyan previously set the record in 2013 when it maintained winds at that level for 24 hours.
25% of Florida to Evacuate
At least 5.6 million people have been asked to evacuate Florida, which is more than 25 percent of the state’s population.
The islands of St. Barthelemy, St. Martin and Anguilla in the northern Leeward Islands took a direct hit from Irma on Wednesday morning. Irma’s 150-mph-plus winds and at least 12-foot storm surge caused catastrophic damage.
So far, Irma has killed at least 20 people in the Caribbean, the AP reported. One person was killed in Florida after falling 15 feet while putting up storm shutters.
11:30 a.m. EDT Saturday: Irma has weakened slightly, but still remains a major Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 125 mph.
While the eye is currently located along the coast of Cuba, the northern part of the storm is beginning to hit Florida with heavy downpours and gusty winds. At least 30,000 customers are without power with this number likely to rise as Irma tracks closer later this weekend.
Mandatory evacuations have been expanded around Cape Coral and Fort Myers, Florida due to the threat of significant storm surge.
Scene in Miami
Florida Keys Emergency
“In the FLORIDA KEYS, it is a full-scale hurricane emergency,” Bryan Norcross, The Weather Channel’s hurricane specialist, posted to Facebook. “Key West is probably going to get its worst storm in modern history, and perhaps ever.”
He added: “In SOUTHWEST FLORIDA – the NAPLES-FT. MYERS-CAPE CORAL area, the potential exists for the worst hurricane in history. The core of Hurricane Irma, potentially with winds gusting over 150 mph or more, is going to come close. Buildings in Southwest Florida are not, in general, built to withstand these winds.”
At 11 a.m. Saturday, Irma was positioned 175 miles southeast of Key West, barreling to the west at 9 mph. Late Saturday, the storm is predicted to turn north, passing over the Keys and then up the west coast. But slight shifts in this projected track were still possible.
Because of the shift in the most likely storm track to the west, Southeast Florida is most likely to miss the storm’s intensely destructive core, known as the eyewall, where winds are strongest. Even so, because of Irma’s enormous size, the entire Florida peninsula and even the panhandle were likely to witness damaging winds. The National Hurricane Center warned the storm would bring “life-threatening wind impacts to much of the state.”
A computer model projection showed nearly 2 million power outages were possible in Florida and the Southeast U.S. from the storm’s winds.
Irma’s peak winds had lessened some on Saturday morning, with peak winds of 125 miles per hour, as it center scraped over Cuba’s north coast, interfering with its circulation.
Best Wishes to Florida
Mike “Mish” Shedlock