Hurricane Irma hit peak winds speeds of 185 mph winds at 2 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon and refused the let-up, with winds Wednesday morning remaining at 185 mph. Just before 2 a.m.on Wednesday, Irma became the most powerful hurricane to ever hit the island of Barbuda, and has maintained strength as it bears down on the islands of Saint Martin & Anguilla this morning. Residents in these locations have been urged by local officials to remain indoors and not leave their home for any reason until the storm has passed. The storm will approach the island of Puerto Rico this afternoon and evening, pass the Dominican Republic to the north Thursday morning before heading for Turks and Caicos on Thursday afternoon and evening.
Hurricane warnings remain out for many of the islands in the region, including Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, as well as Turks and Caicos, where hurricane conditions are expected within the next 12-36 hours. Hurricane watches were extended Wednesday morning into portions of the Bahamas and Cuba with the storm expected to affect these regions on Friday. Watches and warnings are expected to be expanded westward over the next couple days, but currently, there are none out for the Florida coastline.
As of this morning, the National Hurricane Center began to adjust their forecast storm track northward for Irma heading into the weekend. Their latest forecast brings the storm into southern Florida as a powerful, major Category 3 or 4 storm late on Sunday night, affecting northern portions of the state by Monday morning. While no hurricane watch has yet to be issued by the National Hurricane Center, a state of emergency was already declared for the state to help stress the threat that the major hurricane poses. Evacuation orders have been ordered for the Florida Keys beginning Wednesday as well. Understanding the dangers that such a storm posed, the National Football League has cancelled Sunday's home opener for the Miami Dolphins against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but as of Wednesday morning have not announced if the game will be played at a neutral location or if they teams will instead play during their week 11 bye week.
While the National Hurricane Center track focused on Florida this morning, the latest weather models continued a trend first seen yesterday afternoon by shifting the track a little farther eastward. Many of Wednesday morning's models actually kept the eye of Irma off the eastern coastline of Florida entirely, which would be a bit of a saving grace by keeping the strongest of the winds with Irma offshore. This is a similar path to what Hurricane Matthew took as it passed just last year. Even if these models end up being correct and there is no official landfall in Florida, the close pass of such a powerful hurricane would still do significant damage to eastern Florida - just not as extreme as taking a direct hit. Such a track shift would also bring the threat for a landfall in either South Carolina or North Carolina back into the field of play. Waters off the coastline of Florida remain extremely warm this time of year, and Irma could potentially maintain at least major hurricane status (Category 3+) as it heads northward. It has been over 20 years since a major hurricane last hit the Carolinas. Not since Hurricane Fran did nearly $3 billion in damages to the states back in 1996. Such a track would also increase the risk for flooding rains northward into the Mid-Atlantic states by the middle of next week, but a track inland through the Carolinas would quickly weaken the wind field. This track is far from a guarantee. Models have bounced around a lot over the past several days, and until more consistency is seen forecasters will have a tough time pinpointing Irma's exact track and what part of the United States will have the best shot at landfall.
Aside from Hurricane Irma, two other hurricanes have formed over the past 24 hours. Hot on Irma's tale is Hurricane Jose, which has the potential to strengthen to a Category 2 storm by the end of the week. Similar to Irma, Jose may get close enough to the northern Leeward Islands a Puerto Rico to pose a threat. Unlike Irma however, the vast majority of weather models turn Jose northward, and then eventually back out to sea next week. It is not expected to pose any risk to the United States at this time, but the island of Bermuda should keep a close eye its track.
Katia is the newest storm of the bunch. Developing this morning in the Bay of Campeche, she has grown into a Category 1 hurricane as of Wednesday evening. Many in Texas will undoubtedly have their eye on Katia given Hurricane Harvey emerged from the Bay of Campeche just over two weeks ago, however, Katia should stay away. She is forecast loop around and head westward into central Mexico this weekend. Katia is not expected to strengthen too much before making landfall.