Hurricane Irma, Now a Category 5 Storm, Threatens the Caribbean and Florida – New York Times
Just days after Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Texas and Louisiana, another storm, Hurricane Irma, has strengthened over the Atlantic Ocean, threatening to batter the Caribbean this week as “an extremely dangerous” Category 5 storm, the National Weather Service said on Tuesday.
Irma is expected to retain Category 4 or 5 status for days as it makes its way through the Caribbean, probably hitting the islands of Barbuda and Antigua first, as soon as Tuesday night. Florida, where some residents and tourists are already being forced to evacuate, is also increasingly likely to feel Irma’s effects later this week and during the weekend, though the storm’s potential impact is not yet clear.
“It is too early to determine what direct impacts Irma might have on the continental United States,” the National Weather Service said on Tuesday. But, it added, “everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place.”
With maximum winds of about 185 miles per hour, Irma is tied as the second-strongest Atlantic hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center. Only Hurricane Allen, in 1980, was stronger, with peak winds of about 190 miles per hour.
Starting Tuesday night, the “potentially catastrophic” hurricane is expected to bring life-threatening wind, rain and storm surges to parts of the northern Leeward Islands, which line the eastern edge of the Caribbean. The storm is expected to move on to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday, according to the forecast.
The latest estimates put Irma on a more direct path toward South Florida, raising the possibility that the United States could be hit by back-to-back major hurricanes. Gov. Rick Scott of Florida declared a state of emergency on Monday for the state’s 67 counties.
“Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm, and Florida must be prepared,” Mr. Scott said in a statement. The last hurricane to hit Florida was Matthew last October, which brushed up along the state’s east coast before making landfall in South Carolina as a Category 1 storm.
Mr. Scott said on Twitter that he had discussed the latest storm on Monday with President Trump, who “offered the full resources of the federal government as Floridians prepare for Hurricane Irma.”
Officials in the Florida Keys announced mandatory evacuation orders for visitors and residents starting on Wednesday.
“We value our visitors and want them to be safe,” said Roman Gastesi, county administrator of Monroe County, Fla., which is home to the Florida Keys. “This is the reason why we need them to calmly leave the Keys with plenty of advance notice before the storm may reach our shores.
Coast Guard crew members and helicopters that assisted in rescue missions in southeast Texas for Hurricane Harvey were also starting to return to their home stations, including Florida, to prepare for Irma, a Coast Guard spokesman said.
American Airlines announced late Monday that it had canceled several flights on Tuesday between Miami and destinations in the Caribbean.
“For people in South Florida, now is the time to start preparing and getting those hurricane kits in order,” said Chuck Caracozza, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Miami.
For those in the eastern Caribbean, preparations “should be rushed to completion,” the service said midday Tuesday.
If the peak storm surge coincides with high tide, waters may rise 7 to 11 feet above ground in the Virgin Islands and 3 to 5 feet above ground on Puerto Rico’s northern shore.
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands can expect 4 to 10 inches of rain, with totals potentially reaching 15 inches in some areas. Islands east of there can expect 8 to 12 inches of rain, with totals as high as 18 inches in some areas, according to the service.
Late Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service offered yet another storm update on Twitter: Jose, a new tropical storm, had developed in the central Atlantic and is forecast to become a hurricane later in the week.
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