The storm won’t hit Florida until the weekend, according to current predictions, but the Leeward Islands, which includes the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, will see tropical storm winds tonight and expected hurricane conditions early Wednesday.
Current projections by the National Weather Service (NWS) have Florida seeing possible tropical storm conditions Friday and hurricane conditions on Saturday.
While the NWS says it is too early to predict the severity of the storm when it reaches Florida, it is advising residents of South Florida to “ensure emergency hurricane supplies are stocked and review action plans.”
The National Hurricane Center is warning of a “POTENTIALLY CATASTROPHIC CATEGORY 5 HURRICANE IRMA” in its normal full-caps update on its site.
The NHC warns “preparations should be rushed to completion in the hurricane warning area.”
The center says current maximum sustained winds are reaching 185 mph, according to reports from an Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft. That is slightly up from 180 mph recorded three hours ago.
With much of the Caribbean on hurricane watch, and other areas on a less serious alert level, preparations are underway to prepare for the storm.
Hurricane warnings are normally issued 36 hours before storm winds hit, says the NHC, which gives people in the affected area little time to prepare before conditions become difficult or dangerous.
The NHC says hurricane conditions will hit some of the Caribbean’s easternmost islands within the next 12 to 24 hours.
“On the forecast track, the extremely dangerous core of Irma is forecast to move over portions of the northern Leeward Islands tonight and early Wednesday,” it warns.
The British and U.S. Virgin Islands, excepting St. Croix, could see water heights reach 7 to 11 ft.
“Irma is an extremely dangerous category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. 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,” warns the NHC. “Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves.”