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See all the areas in Hurricane Irma’s path and ETA for the Storm

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Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded, started slamming the southeastern Caribbean islands on Tuesday night with devastating winds, heavy rains, and catastrophic storm surges.

 At 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday, the Category 5 storm’s eye was 40 miles northwest of St. Thomas and 55 miles northeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph. The National Weather Service said its “extremely dangerous core” was moving away from the northernmost Virgin Islands, and would travel just north of Puerto Rico Wednesday night.

Irma started hitting the Leeward Islands, the chain of islands separating the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean, on Tuesday night. By Wednesday afternoon, the storm had moved through Anguilla, Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, St. Martin, and Saint Barthelemy.

The National Hurricane Center predicts Irma will begin battering the northern side of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday, and reach Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas late Thursday into Friday.

Cuba’s northeast coast will most likely see the storm by Saturday morning, and then Irma is forecasted to take a turn north, eyeing the US mainland.

The NWS’s latest forecast puts Florida in the storm’s crosshairs, with Irma most likely arriving on the southern tip of the state Sunday morning and skirting its eastern coast by Monday morning, perhaps reaching Georgia and South Carolina by Monday night or Tuesday.

The weather models still aren’t sure what Irma’s precise location or strength will be by the weekend, but the NHC forecasts Irma will still be a major hurricane in the coming days.

Google Maps Hurricane warnings are in effect for , the British Virgin Islands, the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Bahamas, and Turks and Caicos. Those islands can expect hurricane conditions within the next 36 hours.

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Hurricane watches are in place for the the northwestern Bahamas and Cuba. Those islands can expect tropical-storm conditions within the next two days.

“Irma poses the most serious hurricane threat to northern Cuba and Florida since at least Hurricane Andrew” in 1992, Jeff Masters, a meteorologist, wrote on Weather Underground on Tuesday, adding that the storm was “still strengthening.”

Winds

While Hurricane Harvey brought devastating floods, Irma’s biggest threat is likely to be its strong winds.

The Saffir-Simpson scale of a hurricane’s intensity goes up to Category 5, but if it were extended to classify Irma’s wind speeds — which can destroy most framed homes, topple trees, and knock out power lines — it could be considered a Category 6 storm (though that’s not an official designation).

The NHC expects Irma to remain a “very powerful” Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane for “the next several days.”

Flooding

The storm surge — the quick rise in water caused by a hurricane’s strong winds — and wave height could also be devastating, particularly for low-lying Caribbean islands.

The NHC has projected storm-surge heights above normal tide levels of 7 to 11 feet in the northern Leeward Islands, 15 to 20 feet in Turks and Caicos and the southeastern Bahamas, 3 to 5 feet on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, and 1 to 3 feet on the northern coast of Haiti.

Surge heights above ground could reach 7 to 11 feet in the Virgin Islands, 4 to 6 feet on the northern coast of Puerto Rico, and 2 to 4 feet on the southern coast of Puerto Rico and St. Croix.

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By Saturday, rainfall could reach 8 to 12 inches across the northern Leeward Islands, with some areas seeing up to 20 inches. Northeast Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands should expect 6 to 12 inches of rain, with some totals up to 20 inches. Southwest Puerto Rico could get 3 to 6 inches, with up to 10 inches in some areas.

From Wednesday to Saturday, Irma could dump 8 to 12 inches of rain on the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos, with isolated totals reaching 20 inches. Northern Hispaniola could get 4 to 10 inches, with some areas seeing 15 inches, and southwest Haiti could get 1 to 4 inches.

The rains could cause flash flooding and mudslides, the NHC says.

Threats to the US mainland

The NHC is becoming more certain that Irma will make landfall in Florida as a catastrophic hurricane this weekend, and forecasters say residents should heed the advice of local officials and get ready if they are in the likely path of the storm.

The Florida Keys and southern tip of the state’s peninsula are the most likely to see direct effects from the storm, and could get hurricane watches or warnings on Thursday.

Forecasters don’t yet know whether Irma will move up the East Coast, though the models are indicating that’s increasingly likely.

“Since Irma is a large hurricane, [forecast] users are reminded to not focus on the exact forecast track since tropical-storm and hurricane-force winds and life-threatening storm surge extend far from the center,” Daniel Brown, a senior hurricane specialist at the NHC, wrote on Tuesday. “Everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place.”

 

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