Hurricane Irma strengthens to Category 5 as 2nd storm forms behind it

NOAA

NOAA

(Via ABC News)

Hurricane Irma has strengthened to a Category 5 storm, and catastrophic damage is possible in the Florida Keys and southern Florida this weekend as a second storm has formed behind it.

Irma was packing 185 mph winds and gusts of more than 200 mph as of 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, and is expected to continue churning with deadly hurricane-force winds and a dangerous storm surge across a wide swath of the Caribbean this week before moving toward southern Florida, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Jose has formed over the open Atlantic, following closely behind Irma, the NHC said Tuesday. Jose could become a Category 2 hurricane as it brushes the northeastern-most Caribbean islands at the end of the week. However, Jose poses no threat to the U.S. or Puerto Rico as of Tuesday.

The NHC warned that residents in the Leeward Islands, already expected to face Irma, “should monitor the track” of Jose.

The NHC on Tuesday called Irma the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic basin outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico in NHC records.

By Sunday around 8 a.m., the hurricane is expected to be near the Florida Keys with winds of 145 mph as a Category 4 hurricane.

It is still unclear whether the storm will track up the east or west coast of Florida. If Irma travels up Florida’s west coast, it would present worst-case scenarios for Gulf cities from Naples to Tampa. If the storm travels up Florida’s east coast, the “bad” side of the storm would remain off-shore, but it could later make landfall somewhere between Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Monday declared a state of emergency for every county to ensure that local governments have enough “time, resources and flexibility to get prepared for this dangerous storm,” according to a statement from his office.

Federal agencies and national recovery groups are already bracing for this, a potentially stronger storm than Hurricane Harvey that devastated parts of Texas and Louisiana last week even as large portions of Houston and other parts of Texas remain underwater.

William Booher, FEMA’s director of public affairs, said Monday that the agency “is actively preparing for Irma while the coordinated response and recovery efforts with our state and local partners in Texas and Louisiana continues.”

FEMA staffers have been deployed to emergency operation centers in St. Thomas and St. Croix, workers from FEMA’s Caribbean area division are in Puerto Rico, and a regional management team has been deployed to San Juan, Puerto Rico, he said in a statement.

More than 600,000 liters of water and 290,000 meals are on hand in San Juan, and more than 115,000 liters of water and 210,000 meals are on hand in the U.S. Virgin Islands, he said.

Red Cross spokeswoman Donna Morrissey told ABC News on Monday that it is preparing for Irma to make landfall on the mainland U.S.

“We have begun prestaging workers in Florida because of Irma,” she said.

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