As I'm sure many of you are already aware, Major Hurricane Irma strengthened this morning into a Category 5 storm with 180 mph sustained winds. That puts Irma tied for the 5th most intense hurricane EVER on record, as well as stronger than Katrina, which devastated Louisiana in 2005.
Irma is currently located around 200 miles east of the Leedward Islands at this time, moving westward at 14 mph. With the latest aircraft reconnaissance, the Hurricane Hunters found sustained winds of 160 knots, or 185 mph in Irma's eye wall, with gusts to 215 mph! This places Irma as tied for SECOND strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded.
Hurricane warnings are already in place for the northern Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico, where Irma is expected to directly impact in the next 12-36 hours. Storm surges of 6-9 feet are expected, as well as flooding rains inland and hurricane force winds. Hurricane watches are in place for Hispaniola and the southern Bahamas.
Irma is expected to remain a major hurricane through the next 5 days, through potential landfall in southern Florida. Uncertainty past day 5 is rather high at this time, as ensembles and global models disagree with the track of the storm once it turns northward. This will be dependent on upper air conditions over the United States at that time. Here are some of the latest ensemble forecasts, showing many possible solutions:
Irma is expected to be a catastrophic storm for island communities with unstable building conditions and extremely low elevation. Please prepare to the best of your ability and begin as soon as possible.
The governor of Florida has already declared a State of Emergency for the state so that aid can be brought into the state before, during, and after the event where needed. Mandatory evacuations will begin in the Florida Keys tomorrow morning, with officials stating "the earlier you can get out, the better". With only one road in and out of the Keys, traffic will likely be very heavy and slow. More evacuation orders are likely to come for southern Florida, including the Miami area in the next couple of days. It is urgent that all residents and tourists heed these evacuation orders!
Further north, if you plan to stay in Florida for Irma's impact, please take a look at the following link for information on how to prepare for the storm: https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes.
For more information on Major Hurricane Irma, visit the National Hurricane Center for forecast updates every three hours, as well as hurricane watches and warnings. For more frequent updates, be sure to follow us on Twitter @tdswx, and our meteorologists Beth @b_carp01 and JT @met_cooper.