Irma had sustained 185-mph winds for 37 hours, the longest any cyclone in the world has maintained such intensity. Super Typhoon Haiyan previously set the record in 2013 when it maintained winds at that level for 24 hours.
Hurricane Irma batters Florida with catastrophic storm surge, wind and rain
After blasting the northern Caribbean, deadly Hurricane Irma has turned toward the United States.
While the strength of the storm has wavered, destructive winds, flooding rain and inundating seas will occur across Florida into Monday.
“Unfortunately, there is no way the United States is going to avoid another catastrophic weather event,” Dr. Joel N. Myers, founder, president and chairman of AccuWeather said.
“There will be massive damage in Florida. [It will be] the worst single hurricane to hit Florida since Hurricane Andrew in 1992,” Myers said.
Preparations should already be completed across the Sunshine State.
The current track of Irma will bring severe and life-threatening impacts to all of the Florida Keys and a large portion of the Florida Peninsula, including Key West, Key Largo, Tampa, Fort Myers, Naples, Sarasota and Miami.
“Irma remains a very powerful and destructive hurricane,” AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski said.
After the center of Irma tracked along the northern coast of Cuba Saturday morning, Irma briefly became a Category 3 hurricane. Early Sunday morning, it again became a Category 4 storm.
Irma is projected to maintain Category 4 strength until it makes landfall just east of Key West, Florida, around 8 a.m. Sunday. It may intensify further over very warm waters in the region, so landfall as a Category 5 hurricane cannot be ruled out.
Wind gusts may exceed 160 mph from Fort Myers southward to Everglades National Park and could lead to a swath of catastrophic damage, including roofs getting ripped off and severe structural damage.
“Impacts within the projected path of Irma include life-threatening wind, storm surge and flooding rainfall hazards,” Kottlowski said.
The outer rain bands of Irma moved onshore in southeast Florida on Friday night into Saturday. Winds strengthened on Saturday evening with gusts to 75 mph over southern Florida.
Conditions will continue to deteriorate rapidly across South Florida, including the Florida Keys, and will turn life-threatening into Sunday. Rain and hurricane-force winds will intensify quickly.
Much of southwestern Florida will be buffeted by wind gusts of 100 to 160 mph, which can easily knock down power lines and trees and cause significant to catastrophic damage to roofs and structures.
Power could be out for weeks in some communities.
Downtown Miami will be spared from the highest winds; however, occasional wind gusts between 80 and 100 mph could bring down trees and power lines and cause destruction to mobile homes.
Irma’s proximity to the warm Gulf of Mexico as it moves northward along the west coast of Florida may help it maintain hurricane intensity by the time it reaches northern Florida on Monday. Tallahassee and Jacksonville are likely to get battered by damaging winds and flooding rainfall during this time.
“Irma could track far enough west of Florida that the center remains over the Gulf of Mexico and away from the coast,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Tom Kines said.
If Irma tracks farther west, then it will interact with warmer water for a longer period of time, which could lead to even further intensification. Strengthening could increase impacts along the western coast of Florida and the severity of impacts across the Florida Panhandle.
However, this scenario would also lead to less impacts along the eastern coast of Florida, from Jacksonville to Miami.
Isolated tornadoes will threaten areas on the northeast side of the storm, which will put much of Florida at risk for further damage should a tornado strike.
“Any land within 185 miles of the Irma’s center could see damage and any place within 50 to 60 miles of the center could experience catastrophic damage,” Kottlowski said.
The citrus crop could be seriously damaged by the storm due to the long-duration of intense winds.