The Huge New Hurricane Threatening the US Just Became a Category 5 Storm
While the likely years-long recovery from the catastrophic flooding unleashed by Harvey is underway in Texas and Louisiana, Hurricane Irma is quickly gaining strength in the Atlantic and could potentially hit the United States. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the storm has been upgraded to a Category 5 Hurricane with 175mph winds as of Tuesday morning, making it one of the strongest hurricanes in history.
Forecasters expect Irma to roar into the Caribbean, slamming portions of the Leeward Islands as soon as late Tuesday and the British Virgin Islands, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico on Wednesday, according to an advisory from the National Hurricane Center. Later this week, Irma could hit Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, and Cuba as an "extremely dangerous major hurricane." As for the US mainland, the agency said there's an "increasing chance" of impacts along the Florida peninsula and the Florida Keys this weekend, but also said that it's still too early to say how the storm will affect the rest of the continental US.
At the time of the upgrade to a Category 5, Irma was located about 270 miles east of Antigua, moving west at 14mph.
Hurricane warnings have been issued for the US and British Virgin Islands and several other island groups as well as parts of Puerto Rico. Evacuations are underway in many of these areas. Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency on Monday for all of the state's 67 counties in preparation for the storm, saying, "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." In fact, all hurricane-prone areas in the US should prepare for the storm, NOAA said.
The latest forecast maps from the National Hurricane Center indicate a potentially devastating path:
Hurricane Irma's strength is expected to fluctuate as it travels through the Caribbean, but its 175mph wind speeds were well above the 157mph threshold for a Category 5 storm, according to a report by CNN. The massive storm looked absolutely menacing from above in new satellite imagery on Tuesday:
A lot can happen over the next several days as the storm progresses, but if you're in any of the areas where Irma is forecasted to hit or even areas along the East Coast that could potentially see impacts from the storm, don't delay in preparing accordingly. NOAA has plenty of info and tips for preparing.