Here’s What You Need To Know About Hurricane Irma

The National Hurricane Center called the Category 5 hurricane “extremely dangerous.”

By Hayley Miller

  • Irma was upgraded to a Category 5 hurricane on Tuesday.

  • The National Hurricane Center called the hurricane “potentially catastrophic,” with maximum sustained wind gusts currently reaching 185 miles per hour.

  • States of emergency have been declared in Florida and Puerto Rico, where the storm is expected to make U.S. landfall by Wednesday morning.

  • Mandatory evacuations were issued for parts of Florida on Tuesday.

Days after Hurricane Harvey ravaged parts of southern Texas and Louisiana, another powerful and potentially record-breaking storm is brewing in the Atlantic Ocean, threatening to pummel areas of the Caribbean and Florida with deadly winds and flooding.

Hurricane Irma was upgraded to an “extremely dangerous” Category 5 hurricane on Tuesday, with maximum sustained winds currently reaching 185 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center ― just 5 miles per hour slower than the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded.

By Tuesday afternoon, the storm was roughly 100 miles off the coast of Antigua and set to strike several other islands in the Leeward Islands chain, including Saint Maarten and Anguilla.

It’s unclear exactly what path Irma will take over the next week, though the National Weather Service predicted it will likely pummel northeastern Leeward Islands Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning, producing “a life-threatening storm surge” and causing water levels to rise up to 11 feet above normal tide levels.

Irma is also expected to hit the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico by Wednesday morning, which could mark the first time two Category 4 or stronger hurricanes have made U.S. landfall in a single year.

As Irma moves east, NWS models forecast the hurricane will impact northern regions of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on the island of Hispaniola on Thursday evening before hitting Cuba and possibly Florida by this weekend.

The storm is expected to remain a Category 4 or 5 during the next couple of days, the NWS reported. Hurricane warnings are currently in effect for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as regions of the Leewards Islands chain. 

“For some of the easternmost islands, the hurricane conditions are expected within the next 12 to 24 hours,” the NWS stated Tuesday. “Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.”

The governors of Puerto Rico and Florida declared states of emergency ahead of the storm on Monday. 

Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello activated the National Guard on Monday and urged the U.S. territory’s 3.4 million residents to prepare for the worst.

“There is no positive sign that it’s going to go in another direction,” Rossello said at a news conference. “We’re expecting that it’s coming at Puerto Rico with force, and we’ve got to be ready for it.”

President Trump on Tuesday approved emergency declarations for Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

Irma is predicted to produce 4-10 inches of rainfall across northeast Puerto Rico, threatening to cause dangerous flooding and mudslides. 

Phil Klotzback, a meteorology professor at Colorado State University, told HuffPost on Tuesday that it appeared as though Irma will pass just north of Puerto Rico, sparing residents from the storm’s most dangerous effects.

“It’s going to be a very, very close call,” Klotzback said. “If I were in Puerto Rico, I would be very nervous, but I think they may have lucked out.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) activated 100 Florida National Guard members on Monday and directed another 7,000 members to be prepared for potential activation on Friday.

“I urge all Floridians to remain vigilant and stay alert,” Scott tweeted Monday, adding that President Donald Trump had “offered the full resources of the federal government.”

Local officials began issuing mandatory evacuations for some parts of southern Florida, including Miami Dade County, on Tuesday afternoon.

Miami Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez issued a mandatory evacuation beginning Wednesday and urged all visitors in South Florida “cut their vacations” short.

“This hurricane is far too powerful, poses far too great a threat for us to delay actions any further,” Gimenez said during a news conference.

Residents and visitors of the Florida Keys are also under mandatory evacuation.

Martin Senterfitt, director of the Monroe County Emergency Operations Center, told people they “cannot afford to stay” on Florida’s southern archipelago during the storm.

“Most of this island chain is only three to five feet above sea level,” said Senterfitt. “With the surges we’re expecting this is not the place to be.”

People in South Florida and Puerto Rico have already begun stocking up on water and other supplies in anticipation of the storm.

Experts have said the region is ill-equipped to handle a direct hit from a hurricane of this magnitude.

Bryan Norcross, chief meteorologist for Miami’s NBC affiliate WTVJ, told the Washington Post in August that South Florida is not “remotely prepared” for such a hurricane.

“In 2005, Hurricane Wilma was a Category 1 in Miami-Dade County and Category 2 in pockets of Broward and Palm Beach Counties,” Norcross said. “It ended up being the third most expensive hurricane in the history of hurricanes. The government was barely able to stabilize the situation simply due to the large number of people who were really hurting.”

As Irma barreled closer to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Tuesday, island residents tweeted their concern.



Ricardo Ramos, director of Puerto Rico’s power company, warned that potential power outages caused by Irma could last for months given the island’s already vulnerable electric system.

“We’re preparing for the worst-case scenario,” Ramos told Telemundo TV station WIPR on Monday.

Still, Dr. Jeff Master, director of meteorology at Weather Underground, told HuffPost that other regions would likely face more severe damage, including some Leeward Islands, Hispaniola, Cuba and possibly Florida.

“It’s the second strongest Atlantic hurricane of all time,” Master said. “I would take it very seriously. If I lived down there and had the flexibility, I would get out of there.”

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