With just hours left until landfall, sometime on Sunday morning, Hurricane Irma is edging ever closer to Florida and has started to batter the state with Hurricane force winds as millions brace for the impact of the most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade.
According to ABC and AP, the National Weather Service measured a 74-mph gust in the Florida Keys on Saturday night, marking the beginning of hurricane-force winds that forecasters say will steadily intensify in the coming hours.
A tornado watch is in effect across the area, and at least two such twisters have already been reported.
As of about 10 p.m. Saturday, Irma was 100 miles southeast of Key West with sustained winds of 125 mph. It was moving west, and is expected to turn north and head up the western coast of Florida, making landfall on Sunday.
Hurricane Irma approached Florida, Sept. 9, 2017.
A live feed tracking the hurricane is shown below, courtesy of ABC:
According to Hurricane Tracker, the peak forecast wind gust city-by-city is as follows:
- Miami: 74 mph (Sun. Morning)
- Key West: 144 mph (Sun. Morning)
- Naples: 141 mph (Sun. Morning)#Irma
- Tampa: 139 mph (Sun. Night)
- Orlando: 74 mph (Sun. Night)
- Fort Myers: 134 mph (Sun. Afternoon)
The NHC is expecting a storm surge anywhere between 6 and 12 feet.
The storm, which was downgraded to Category 3 after making landfall as a rare Category 5 hurricane in Cuba overnight but is expected to strengthen once more before again making landfall in Florida, has sent 75,000 people into shelters in Florida. More than six million people, or nearly a third of Florida’s population, have been warned to evacuate its path.
The National Hurricane Center on Friday cautioned that Irma’s winds would likely be strong enough to uproot trees, bring down power poles and rip off the roofs and some exterior walls of well-built frame homes. “Obviously Hurricane Irma continues to be a threat that is going to devastate the United States,” Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said at a press conference Friday morning. “We’re going to have a couple rough days.”
Several counties and cities in south Florida have issued a curfew as the storm draws near. Broward County set a curfew for 4 p.m. Saturday and said no unauthorized vehicles will be allowed on the roads. Charlotte County and the City of Miami Beach will enter one later tonight. Palm Beach County has issued a curfew to prevent looting and other criminal activity as the storm approaches, according to a press release. The curfew goes into effect Saturday at 3 p.m. It is unclear when it will be lifted.
Some 10,000 flights have been cancelled in anticipation of Irma, about 7,000 of them in Florida alone.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott called the storm unprecedented. “This is a life-threatening situation,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Saturday. “Our state has never seen anything like it.” The governor stressed the dangers of what he called a “deadly, deadly, deadly storm surge.”
President Trump tweeted a video from a Cabinet meeting Saturday, telling people to “get out of” Irma’s way. “Property is replaceable but lives are not. and safety has to come first. Don’t worry about it, get out of its way,” Trump said.
Meteorologists from ABC News are forecasting storm surges of 10 feet in Tampa and Sarasota, and 10 to 15 feet from Fort Myers to Naples. Somewhat lower storm surges of 3 to 6 feet may occur from Miami to Key Largo. Winds were already picking up in Florida early Saturday, with gusts between 40 and 60 mph, as the following clip shows:
Hurricane-force winds with gusts over 115 mph are possible in the Keys by daybreak Sunday. More tornadoes are also likely and a tornado watch was issued Saturday for southern Florida.
According to ABC, Florida state residents should anticipate days-long power outages, FEMA said. Ahead of Irma’s arrival in the Sunshine State, the last flights departed Friday night from Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Miami’s airport officially remains open, while Fort Lauderdale’s airport is closed for Saturday and Sunday. Meanwhile, many ATM machines across southwest Florida were out of cash by late Friday night after people stocked up in case Hurricane Irma causes power outages that make debit and credit card transactions impossible, the Associated Press reported.
Meanwhile, as millions evacuate, Germain Arena, a large shelter between Naples and Fort Myers along Florida’s west coast, is already at capacity Saturday as hundreds of people were in line waiting to get in. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Giménez said Saturday morning about 25,000 residents are sheltered in Miami-Dade alone, a number he called “unprecedented in our history.”
Traffic streaming out of Florida creeps along northbound Interstate 75 after a
vehicle accident in Lake Park, Ga., Sept. 6, 2017.
“We must remain vigilant,” Giménez said. “The storm will still strengthen … and we will be impacted.”
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