Hurricane Irma was upgraded to a Category 5 hurricane Tuesday and became one of the strongest storms to ever form in the Atlantic.
Irma’s current environment of warm sea surface temperatures and favorable wind conditions is lending to the storm’s growing intensity, according to the Washington Post.
Experts expect the hurricane to hit the Leeward Islands at 2 a.m. Wednesday as it moves toward the southern tip of Florida. Irma has sustained winds of about 175 mph with occasional gusts hitting higher speeds, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reports.
Florida and Puerto Rico have both declared a state of emergency in advance of the hurricane, CNN reports.
“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,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement released late Monday afternoon. “This state of emergency allows our emergency management officials to act swiftly in the best interest of Floridians without the burden of bureaucracy or red tape.”
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló issued the emergency notice and activated the National Guard Monday, according to CNN.
The chances are slim that the U.S. avoids Irma completely, CNN meteorologist and weather anchor Tom Sater said.
“There is a small window. If it turns sooner rather than later, we could maybe see the system slide by the East Coast into the ocean, but that window is shutting quickly,” Sater told CNN. “It definitely looks like we will be impacted by a major hurricane that is a Category 3, 4 or 5.”
Floridians are stocking up and preparing for Irma’s landfall whether or not the hurricane lands. Residents are emptying local stores of emergency supplies such as bottled water, the Miami Herald reports.
Irma’s tropical storm force winds extend out from the eye of the storm up to 140 miles. Hurricane force winds range 45 miles from the center, the NHC reports.
“Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Irma is forecast to remain a powerful Category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days,” an NHC warning said.
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