Hurricane Irma is now predicted to be just north of Cuba on Saturday, approaching South Florida as a Cat 4 hurricane. For the first time in history the term Cat 6 is being used to described Irma's future strength projections.
Florida Governor Rick Scott has declared a State Of Emergency to prepare Florida for a possible hit by Hurricane Irma. Monday evening the governor issued the order for all 67 counties in the state soon after the latest advisory showed the forecast cone reaching parts of South Florida sometime during the weekend.
“Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm and Florida must be prepared. I have continued to be briefed by the Florida Division of Emergency Management on Hurricane Irma and current forecast models have Florida in Irma’s path – potentially impacting millions of Floridians,” said Governor Scott.
The order is meant to make sure each local government has enough time and resources to prepare for the dangerous hurricane and keep the community safe if there is a potential hit.
“In Florida, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best and while the exact path of Irma is not absolutely known at this time, we cannot afford to not be prepared,” said Governor Scott.
The governor said the declaration of emergency allows for officials to act fast without the “burden of bureaucracy or red tape.”
Dangerous Hurricane Irma was intensifying as it approached the northern Lesser Antilles Islands on Monday morning, and island residents in the path of Irma need to rush preparations to completion as the storm heads west-southwest at 14 mph. A NOAA hurricane hunter aircraft in the storm found that Irma’s central pressure was steadily dropping Monday morning, reaching 944 mb at 11 am EDT.
Irma's top sustained winds are estimated at 120 mph, and winds may not yet have fully responded to this pressure drop. Update: Based on Hurricane Hunter measurements, NHC raised Irma's top sustained winds at 5:00 pm EDT to 130 mph, making it a Category 4 storm. Irma is expected to be a major Category 4 hurricane when it passes very close to the northern Lesser Antilles Islands on Tuesday, near Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on Wednesday, and the Turks and Caicos Islands and Hispaniola on Thursday. As of 5 pm EDT Monday, Hurricane Warnings are in effect for the northern Leeward Islands, and Hurricane Watches are up for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Tropical storm-force winds are expected to begin affecting the east coast of Florida and the Florida Keys on Friday night (Figure 1 below). An evacuation decision for the Florida Keys may have to come as early as Tuesday, since the Keys require 3+ days to evacuate. As of 5 pm EDT, far southeast Florida, including Miami, was in the 5-day cone of uncertainty.
The only major impediment to Irma’s strength would appear to be interaction with land; a close pass or direct hit on Hispaniola or Cuba could potentially damage or destroy the hurricane’s inner core and knock it down to Category 2 or 3 strength.