The continental United States is preparing for another major hurricane just weeks after Harvey unleashed torrential rains over southeastern Texas, leading to catastrophic flooding, the displacement of thousands, and the deaths of at least 60 people.
Hurricane Irma strengthened into an “extremely dangerous” Category 5 storm early Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center. By Tuesday afternoon, Irma packed maximum sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, making it the strongest hurricane recorded in the Atlantic basin outside of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, according to hurricane records.
Irma is expected to pass over the Leeward Islands, a chain that includes the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, Tuesday night or early Wednesday. The hurricane will then continue its westward churn toward Puerto Rico. Later in the week and over the weekend, the storm could reach Hispaniola, Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, Cuba, and Florida.
Here’s a look at Irma, which the National Hurricane Center says is breaking records:
And here’s a satellite view:
Storm advisories are in effect for more than a dozen island nations and territories in the Caribbean, including hurricane warnings for parts of the Leeward Islands. The governors of Puerto Rico and Florida have declared states of emergency.
Irma is expected to bring “life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall,” to the Leeward Islands, the National Hurricane Center said Tuesday. The hurricane may produce storm surges between seven feet and 11 feet in parts of the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and between two feet and four feet on the northern coast of Puerto Rico.
Irma formed as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa, a typical origin for storms during hurricane season. Last week, it strengthened from a tropical storm to a Category 3 hurricane within a day, becoming this season’s second major hurricane. Irma fed off warm waters in the Atlantic and encountered little to no dry air and vertical wind shear, two variables that usually slow down storms, meteorologists say.
If Irma reaches Florida, the hurricane could put a strain on U.S. disaster-relief efforts as millions across southeastern Texas start to rebuild in Harvey’s wake. The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Sunday the agency is preparing to deal with the aftermath for “the next couple of years.” It’s still too early to determine Irma’s potential effects on the United States, but Florida Governor Rick Scott said President Trump has “offered the full resources of the federal government” to the state and Floridians have been advised to prepare. Residents in south Florida spent the Labor Day weekend clearing out store shelves of drinking water and other goods, the Miami Herald reported.
Brian McNoldy, a cyclone researcher at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, has been tracking the storm from Miami-Dade County. The neighborhood is on “high alert,” he said in an email Tuesday.
“Stores are already running out of the usual supplies,” McNoldy said. “[There is] a lot of anxiety.”