Major Hurricane Irma to slam northern Caribbean as it tracks toward the US this week
By Renee Duff, AccuWeather meteorologist
September 04, 2017, 8:18:11 AM EDT
Major Hurricane Irma will slam the northern Caribbean islands with flooding rain, damaging winds and dangerous seas before eyeing the United States this week.
“Irma is a serious threat for the Caribbean islands and United States,” AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok said.
Irma, currently a Category 3 hurricane, poses an imminent danger to the northernmost Leeward Islands. Preparations for the storm should be rushed to completion in these areas.
“Rain and gusty winds may start as early as Tuesday,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Rob Miller said.
Irma has been fluctuating in intensity over the past few days, but is expected to strengthen to a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 130-156 mph (209-251 km/h) on its closest approach to the islands.
The storm will turn to the north and west over the coming days. This track will put Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands, in the brunt of the storm’s rain and wind spanning Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday.
Widespread power outages and damage to trees and structures are likely where the eye of the storm passes directly over or makes its closest approach.
Rainfall will be heavy enough to trigger flash flooding, mudslides and road washouts.
“Severe effects from the storm may be limited to a radius 50 miles (80 km) of the center, while the storm moves through the tropics,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.
Rough surf will spread outward from the storm, leading to dangerous swimming and boating conditions along the east-facing beaches of the Lesser Antilles. Small craft should head to port and remain there until Irma has passed.
Cruise and shipping interests in the projected path of Irma should make plans to reroute.
During the middle and latter half of the week, Irma will move close to Puerto Rico and Hispaniola with the worst of the storm expected to miss the islands to the north. However, Irma will still track close enough to bring flooding rain and damaging winds to the islands. Mountainous areas that receive heavy rain will also be at risk for mudslides.
There is an increasing concern that the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas will face very dangerous conditions at the end of the week and into the weekend as Irma tracks nearby or possibly through the islands. Those in Cuba will also be at risk for intense rain and wind, especially the near the northern coast.
Will Irma impact the U.S. East Coast?
The exact path of Irma beyond the end of the week remains uncertain and will depend on a variety of moving parts in the atmosphere.
A landfall in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas is all in the realm of possibilities. The potential remains for the storm to curve northward and miss the East Coast entirely. Irma could also take a more southern track and brush Cuba.
“The eastward or northeast progression of a non-tropical system pushing across the central and eastern U.S. this week will highly impact the long-range movement of Irma,” AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski said.
How fast or slow this non-tropical system moves will determine whether Irma takes a west-northwest path toward the southern Atlantic Seaboard or gets steered more to the north and away from land.
“This hurricane has the potential to be a major event for the East Coast. It also has the potential to significantly strain FEMA and other governmental resources occurring so quickly on the heels of Harvey,” Evan Myers, Expert Senior Meteorologist and Chief Operating Officer said.
Any potential impacts to the United States would not occur until next weekend and the second week of September.
“The U.S. has not sustained a direct hit from two Category 4 or above hurricanes in more than 100 years,” Myers said.
Given the uncertainty that remains, all interests from the Bahamas to Florida, the Carolinas, southern New England and Bermuda should closely monitor the forecast path of Irma this week and review emergency and evacuation procedures in case they need to be implemented.
“As we saw just 10 days ago with Harvey, it is important to be ready to evacuate and be prepared with at a minimum, a list of items you would take if you had 30 minute notice or 1 hours notice of 6 hours or a day to evacuate,” Myers said.
Another tropical threat brewing
Behind Irma, a disorganized area of showers and thunderstorms located hundreds of miles southwest of the Cabo Verde Islands will need to be monitored for potential development.
This system will move into a favorable environment for organizing and gaining strength as it moves to the west-northwest toward the Lesser Antilles during the middle and latter part of this week.
The next storm in the Atlantic Basin would acquire the name Jose.
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