Category 4 strike the strongest to the keys in 57 years!
Hurricane Irma hammering the Florida Keys as a Category 4 hurricane.
Destructive winds are ongoing in many parts of South Florida, already.
Hurricane and storm surge warnings have been extended northward in Florida.
A catastrophic storm surge will swamp parts of southwest Florida Sunday.
Destructive winds will then race up the Florida Peninsula.
Irma will then race northward along the Florida Gulf Coast through Monday.
Hurricane Irma, a Category 4 hurricane, is making landfall now as the strongest hurricane in the Lower Florida Keys in 57 years and will then deliver a potentially catastrophic strike up the Florida Peninsula.
Hurricane and Storm Surge Watches and Warnings
Life-threatening and historic storm surge is likely in parts of South Florida, according to the National Weather Service.
A storm surge warning has been issued from the South Santee River southward to the Jupiter Inlet and on the peninsula from North Miami Beach to the Ochlockonee River, including the Florida Keys and Tampa Bay.
(INTERACTIVE: How Much Storm Surge May Occur)
In addition, hurricane and tropical storm watches and warnings have been issued.
Hurricane warnings now extend as far north as Fernandina Beach on the Atlantic side, and up to Indian Pass on the Gulf side, and well into southern Georgia. Included in the hurricane warnings are the Florida Keys, Naples, Ft. Myers, the Tampa/St. Petersburg metro, Miami, West Palm Beach, Tallahassee, Thomasville and Valdosta.
Hurricane warnings also continue for a portion of a north coast of Cuba. Hurricane warnings mean hurricane conditions are either occurring or expected to occur within 36 hours.
A hurricane watch is also in effect for the Georgia coast northward to Edisto Beach, South Carolina. A watch means hurricane conditions are possible within 48 hours.
Tropical storm warnings are in effect for the western Florida panhandle outside of the Pensacola metro area and along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts up to the South Santee River.
Watches and Warnings
Irma’s Latest Status, Conditions
The center of Irma is located very near Key West, Florida, and is moving northwest at about 8 mph.
(MORE: Irma’s Notable Extremes)
Current Storm Status
The NWS office in Key West warned of “swaths of tornado-like damage” possible in the eyewall that is currently hammering the Lower Keys. Storm surge in Key West has already topped 2.5 feet and should rise as water continues to pile into the Keys around the eyewall of Irma.
A Weatherflow station at Smith Shoal Light, about 15 miles northwest of Key West, recorded a wind gust of 96 mph just after 5 a.m. An 89 mph gust was recorded at 7:16 a.m. at the NWS Office in Key West.
Several gusts from 60 to 70 mph were clocked in Miami and West Palm Beach, with trees downed, stop signs downed, and shutters ripped off on Ocean Drive in South Beach, according to NBC 6 Miami.
Other notable wind gusts so far:
- Marathon Key: 88 mph
- Deerfield Beach: 77 mph
- Miami International Airport measured a wind gust of 75 mph – this site is located at 95 feet in elevation
- Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport: 70 mph
Wind gusts from 40 to 50 mph have also spread north as far as the Georgia Coast. At least one tree was downed in St. Simons Island, Georgia, early Sunday.
An extensive area of heavy rainbands had already formed well north of the center of Irma over much of the Florida Peninsula, flirting with the Georgia Coast.
Over 10 inches of rain has already triggered flooding that shut down a stretch of U.S. 1 in Ft. Pierce, Florida, with water reportedly into at least one home and parked cars flooded.
NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center has issued a tornado watch valid until noon EDT for all of southern and east-central Florida. The watch area includes West Palm Beach, Miami, Key West, Fort Myers, Vero Beach and Melbourne.
(TRACK IRMA: Current Weather Conditions and Webcams)
Current Wind, Radar, Watches, and Warnings
Projected Path and Intensity
After raking through the Keys, Irma will next strike southwest Florida with Category 4 intensity Sunday.
At this intensity, small deviations in wind speed intensity will not significantly change impacts. A direct hit will be devastating.
(INTERACTIVE MAP: Track Irma)
Here’s a general overview of the timing for impacts from Irma.
Potential Impact Timing
- Bahamas: Tropical storm conditions in parts of the northwest Bahamas at least through Sunday night
- Cuba: Hurricane conditions along north-central Cuba coast through Sunday morning
- Florida: Hurricane-force winds arrive in South Florida and the Florida Keys spread north up the peninsula Sunday through early Monday; improvement Monday from south to north
- Georgia-Carolinas: Late Sunday-Monday, possibly lingering into early Tuesday in some areas
It is important to remember not to just focus on the forecast cone, as it does not take into account the large size of Irma, with dangerous impacts expected outside of the path of the center.
(MORE: Beware ‘I’ Hurricanes)
South Florida Forecast, Impacts
According to the latest National Hurricane Center’s forecast, the center of Irma will pass over the Florida Keys Sunday morning, then track toward the southwest coast or the west coast of Florida coast Sunday afternoon.
Forecast Storm-Surge Flooding
The following life-threatening water-level rises (storm surge) are possible in South Florida Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center, if they occur at high tide:
- Southwestern Florida from Cape Sable to Captiva: 10 to 15 feet
- Captiva to Anna Maria Island: 6 to 10 feet
- Card Sound Bridge through Cape Sable, including the Florida Keys: 5 to 10 feet
- North Miami Beach to Card Sound Bridge, including Biscayne Bay: 3 to 5 feet
- North of North Miami Beach: 1 to 2 feet
(INTERACTIVE: How Much Storm Surge May Occur)
PLEASE evacuate as instructed by local emergency managers if you’re in an area where storm surge is forecast. Water (storm surge, rainfall flooding) is what claims the large majority of lives in hurricanes.
Depending on the exact track of Irma, locations in the hurricane warning areas could see devastating to catastrophic impacts, including structural damage and widespread power and communication outages from high winds. The National Weather Service said that areas in the hurricane warning could be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
Hurricane-Force Wind Probabilities
If that wasn’t enough, up to 25 inches of rain is possible. Here are the latest rainfall forecasts from the National Hurricane Center and the Weather Prediction Center:
- The Florida Keys: 15 to 20 inches, with isolated 25-inch totals
- Southern Florida Peninsula: 10 to 15 inches, with isolated 20-inch totals
Numerous tornadoes are likely along the southeast coast of Florida and over the Everglades, to the north and east of Irma’s eye. Numerous tornadoes and waterspouts were reported in south Florida on Saturday evening.
North Florida Forecast, Impacts
Irma’s center is expected to track up the Florida west coast later Sunday into Monday.
Dangerous water-level rises (storm surge) are also possible in north Florida, according to the National Hurricane Center, if they occur at high tide:
- Anna Maria Island to Clearwater Beach, including Tampa Bay: 5 to 8 feet
- Clearwater Beach to Ochlockonee River: 4 to 6 feet
- South Santee Beach in South Carolina south to Fernandina Beach in northeast Florida: 4 to 6 feet
- Fernandina Beach to North Miami Beach: 2 to 4 feet
Significant inland wind damage and rainfall flooding could occur in parts of north and central Florida, given Irma’s large and growing size.
Locally heavy rainfall is expected, with up to 20 inches possible, based on the latest rainfall forecasts from the National Hurricane Center and the Weather Prediction Center:
- North Florida Peninsula: 8 to 12 inches, with isolated 16-inch totals
- Eastern Florida Panhandle: 3 to 6 inches, with isolated 10-inch totals
The threat for tornadoes increases along the East Coast, especially to the north and east of where the center passes beginning late Sunday into early Monday.
Georgia, Carolinas Forecast, Impacts
The center of Irma is then expected to track into Georgia Monday afternoon into Tuesday.
Dangerous water-level rises (storm surge) of 4 to 6 feet are also possible from South Santee River, South Carolina, to Fernandina Beach, Florida, according to the National Hurricane Center, if they occur at high tide.
Significant inland wind damage and rainfall flooding could occur in parts of Georgia and the Carolinas, as well.
A forecast model developed by Seth Guikema (University of Michigan), Steven Quiring (Ohio State University) and Brent McRoberts (Texas A&M) predicted over 2-million customers could be without power from Florida to east Tennessee from Irma’s widespread winds.
Potential Power Outages
Dangerous surf and coastal flooding will likely exist throughout the southeastern U.S. coastline even well away from Irma’s center this weekend into early next week.
In fact, the National Weather Service in Charleston, South Carolina, said that record tide levels, topping those during Hurricane Matthew, are possible at Ft. Pulaski, Georgia, and storm surge at Charleston Harbor Monday could top that seen from Matthew, exceeded only by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Heavy rainfall is expected to spread across the Southeast. Here are the latest rainfall forecasts from the National Hurricane Center and the Weather Prediction Center:
- Southeast Georgia: 8 to 12 inches, with isolated 16-inch totals
- Rest of Georgia, southern and western South Carolina, western North Carolina: 3 to 6 inches, with isolated 10-inch totals
- Eastern Alabama and southern Tennessee: 2 to 5 inches
Isolated tornadoes will be a concern into early next week.
Cuba, Bahamas Forecast
Hurricane conditions are expected to persist in portions of northern Cuba Sunday.
Dangerous water-level rises (storm surge) of 5 to 10 feet remain possible, according to the National Hurricane Center, if they occur at high tide.
Heavy rainfall is also expected. Here are the latest rainfall forecasts from the National Hurricane Center and the Weather Prediction Center:
- Western Cuba: 3 to 6 inches, with isolated 10-inch totals
- Western Bahamas: additional 2 to 4 inches, with isolated-6 inch totals
Recap: Leeward Islands Battered
The Leeward Islands were pounded by Irma late Tuesday into Wednesday.
Irma’s 185-mph winds made it the strongest hurricane to strike the Leeward Islands region, according to Dr. Phil Klotzbach, a tropical scientist at Colorado State University. That beat out the Okeechobee Hurricane (1928) and David (1979), which both had 160-mph winds at their peak in the Leeward Islands.
Irma first passed over Barbuda, an island of 1,600 residents, with gusts of at least 155 mph overnight into Wednesday morning. A storm surge of about eight feet was also recorded.
Early Wednesday morning, the eye of Irma then moved over St. Martin, St. Barthelemy and near Anguilla, where sustained winds of 117 mph were measured.
(LATEST NEWS: Irma Slams Caribbean)
In addition, a 111-mph gust was reported on Culebra.
Irma made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane late Friday night along the Camaguey Archipelago of Cuba. This is the first landfall of a Category 5 hurricane in Cuba since 1924, based on NOAA’s historical hurricane tracks database. In Ciego de Avila, Cuba, Saturday morning, a wind gust to 159 mph was reported.
Check back with weather.com for updates on Irma through the weekend for the very latest. We will be updating our coverage of Irma frequently based on the latest forecast guidance for its future track and intensity.