Irma spun into a monster storm Tuesday morning with sustained winds topping 180 mph, becoming the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded outside the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, National Hurricane Center forecasters said in their 11 a.m. advisory.
As the hurricane churns closer to the U.S. coast, its path becomes more certain, with South Florida, particularly the Keys, increasingly likely to take a hit. Tropical storm force winds could arrive as early as Friday. Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency for all 67 counties and has all 7,000 members of the state’s National Guard to report to duty on Friday.
As the storm continued to track westward, islands in its path raced to complete last minute preparations. The Leeward Islands are expected to get hit with “catastrophic” winds tonight, forecasters said, with the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico slammed tomorrow. In Puerto Rico, the governor asked President Donald Trump to declare a state of emergency, while the electric company warned Irma’s fierce winds could leave the island without power for four to six months.
As the hurricane churns closer to the U.S. coast, its path becomes more certain, with South Florida, particularly the Keys, increasingly likely to take a hit. Tropical storm force winds could arrive as early as Friday. Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency for all 67 counties and has ordered all 7,000 members of the state’s National Guard to report to duty on Friday. Highway tolls across the state will be lifted at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez also declared a state of emergency for Miami-Dade County
Tuesday afternoon and said evacuations could begin as early as Wednesday on barrier islands and along the coast. Monroe County issued a mandatory evacuation of all residents beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
“This is a powerful storm which poses a serious threat to our area,” Gimenez said. “I would rather inconvenience residents on this occasion than suffer any loss of life.”
Because Irma is so large, stretching some 120 miles across, forecasters urged caution in paying too much attention to its exact track. The storm is continuing to roll west at 14 mph, with winds expected to begin battering the Leeward Islands today. A powerful high pressure ridge is steering the storm and will likely stay in place over the next few days, forecasters said. In five days, a trough moving across the U.S. should begin weakening the western edge of the ridge, allowing the storm to slide north. Where Irma makes the turn will determine impacts to Florida.