Irma is forecast to remain a powerful category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days

By Stephanie Petit
September 05, 2017 10:29 AM
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As Texans begin to recover from the severe impact of Hurricane Harvey, another major storm is heading to the United States.

Hurricane Irma has strengthened into an “extremely dangerous” Category 5 storm over the Atlantic Ocean, the National Hurricane Center said early Tuesday. Irma was heading west with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph, well above the 157 mph threshold for a Category 5, making it the strongest Atlantic hurricane since Felix in 2007. Irma is forecast to remain a powerful category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days, the center said.

Where is Hurricane Irma headed?

Irma’s winds were expected to start hammering the Caribbean on Tuesday, moving near or over Antigua and Barbuda late Tuesday and early Wednesday, according to the NHC. The storm’s current forecast track then shows the storm hitting the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday afternoon.

Models show the system eventually heading toward Cuba and potentially turning north toward Florida.

According to the National Hurricane Center, Irma is expected to dump 4 to 8 inches of rainfall across
the northern Leeward Islands, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. In some spots, the rainfall could total 12 inches, potentially causing life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

Credit: NOAA

When will it hit the United States?

While Irma’s exact path is uncertain, the hurricane could make landfall in Florida by the end of the week. Georgia and the Carolinas may also be impacted with wind and rain.

“Anybody in Florida should be preparing for a hurricane,” Brian Thompson, a meteorologist at AccuWeather tells PEOPLE. “It looks likely that there will be some impact on Florida.”

Thompson said they are predicting that the storm will be a Category 3 or Category 4 by the time it hits Florida, with a Caribbean island likely getting hit and weakening it.

Credit: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

How is Florida preparing?

Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for the state’s 67 counties on Monday afternoon.

“Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm and Florida must be prepared,” Scott said in a statement. “I have continued to be briefed by the Florida Division of Emergency Management on Hurricane Irma and current forecast models have Florida in Irma’s path – potentially impacting millions of Floridians. Today, given these forecasts and the intensity of this storm, I have declared a state of emergency for every county in Florida to make certain that state, federal and local governments are able to work together and make sure resources are dispersed to local communities as we get prepared for this storm.”

He continued, “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.”

Floridians have already begun clearing out shelves of water and non-perishable foods at the grocery stores in Miami, as many have documented on social media.

“Especially when you’re dealing with wind as strong as this, you could be without power for a while,” Thompson said.