Update, Sept. 5, 2017, at 8:32 a.m.: Irma has been declared a Category 5.
Original post: Looks like the United States will be hit by another, potentially devastating hurricane. Hurricane Irma strengthened to a Category 4 storm on Monday and Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency as the storm could make landfall there as early as this weekend. As of Monday afternoon, Irma was moving toward the Caribbean with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph and several islands in the region, including Puerto Rico, were bracing for the worst.
Although there is still some optimism that maybe Irma could go out to the ocean before striking the continental United States, that now seems increasingly unlikely. “There is a small window. If it turns sooner rather than later, we could maybe see the system slide by the East Coast into the ocean, but that window is shutting quickly,” CNN meteorologist Tom Sater said. “It definitely looks like we will be impacted by a major hurricane that is a Category 3, 4 or 5.” The storm is also likely to strengthen over the next few days and could become the biggest hurricane to hit South Florida since Hurricane Andrew struck as a Category 5 storm in 1992.
The National Hurricane Center was cautious but cautioned that at the very least the continental United States would feel some effects from Irma. “There is an increasing chance of seeing some impacts from Irma in the Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys later this week and this weekend. In addition, rough surf and dangerous marine conditions will begin to affect the southeastern U.S. coast by later this week,” the center said.
“In Florida, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best and, while the exact path of Irma is not absolutely known at this time, we cannot afford to not be prepared,” Scott said in a statement. “This state of emergency allows our emergency management officials to act swiftly in the best interest of Floridians without the burden of bureaucracy or red tape.”
The preparations for Irma are beginning as the recovery efforts in Hurricane Harvey are winding down. The Coast Guard did not carry out any rescue missions in Southeast Texas on Sunday. But that doesn’t mean service members could get a break. The Coast Guard has started to move some of its helicopters out of Texas and into Puerto Rico and Florida in anticipation of what could happen with Irma. “As soon as one ends, we need to make sure we are ready for the next event,” Adm. Paul Zukunft, the Coast Guard commandant, said.