Hurricane Irma Barrels Toward Florida as 'Catastrophic' Category 4 Storm
The highly destructive Hurricane Irma ravaged the Caribbean this week as it roared across the Atlantic Ocean. Now, experts say the life-threatening storm is headed directly toward Florida as a Category 4 storm.
Several hurricane watches and warnings have been issued for parts of Florida and The Weather Channel reported that Irma will likely hit South Florida directly this weekend.
“It’s not a question of if Florida’s going to be impacted, it’s a question of how bad Florida’s going to be impacted and where the storm ends up,” FEMA official William Long said, according to The Washington Post.
Long called Irma “a threat that is going to devastate the United States, either Florida or some of the southeastern states.”
Evan Duffey, a meteorologist with AccuWeather, tells PEOPLE that high winds from the storm will likely cause the most damage to Florida — unlike Hurricane Harvey, in which Texas saw severe floodwaters.
He says that with winds of at least 130-156 mph, parts of Florida will experience a “catastrophic amount of danger.”
Parts of Miami and Fort Lauderdale could see storm surges of up to 15 feet, Duffey adds.
The National Hurricane Center announced in an advisory early on Friday that the Florida peninsula and the Florida Keys will likely experience “severe hurricane conditions” beginning Saturday night.
“Irma is likely to make landfall in southern Florida as a dangerous major hurricane, and bring life-threatening storm surge and wind impacts to much of the state,” officials said in the advisory.
Residents in the area are urged to take every precaution necessary, as the Hurricane Center called the storm a “life-threatening situation.” Officials added that rising waters could move inland from the coastline over the next 36 hours.
“There is a chance of direct impacts in portions of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, but it is too early to specify the magnitude and location of these impacts,” experts added.
Irma destroyed 90 percent of the tiny island of Barbuda — inhabited by about 1,600 people — as a Category 5 hurricane. And it has left 1 million Puerto Rico residents without power.
Irma even led to the death of teenage budding pro surfer Zander Venezia, who reportedly died while riding the mega-swell waves in Barbados during the storm.
Miami-Dade County ordered a mandatory evacuation for Thursday morning. This is the first in 12 years, for more than 100,000 residents of mobile homes, barrier islands and other areas, according to The Miami Herald.