As Harvey moves on from southeastern Texas and floodwaters start to recede, meteorologists are tracking another storm brewing in the eastern Atlantic Ocean that they say could potentially approach the United States in the coming weeks.
Irma became a Category 3 hurricane late Thursday afternoon, making it the season’s second major hurricane. The hurricane now packs maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour, with stronger gusts.
Irma had already quickly transformed from a tropical storm Wednesday morning into a Category 2 hurricane Thursday afternoon, according to the National Hurricane Center. It exhibits an unusual—but not unprecedented—rate of growth, according to meteorologists.
Like Harvey and other Atlantic hurricanes, Irma started as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa and began a slow, westward churn across the Atlantic. Irma will spend the next few days traveling toward the eastern Caribbean region. Beyond that, it’s still too early to predict exactly where the hurricane will go, meteorologists say.
“We have plenty of time to watch this,” said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist at NOAA’s National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Irma has met favorable conditions for picking up strength as it moves across the Atlantic. The hurricane is feeding off warm waters, which are typical during this time of year. “There’s practically no vertical wind shear, which is what would really prohibit storms from forming or strengthening, because it kind of keeps the top separate from the bottom, and they need to be stacked to really strengthen,” said Brian McNoldy, who studies cyclones at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.