Hurricane Irma is being called the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded outside the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, according to National Hurricane Center forecasters. During their 11 a.m. advisory Tuesday morning, they reported Irma has sustained winds topping 180 mph.
Irma is large enough that forecasters cautioned the public about relying on reports of its exact track. Fierce hurricane winds extend 60 miles from Irma’s center.
Rolling west at 14 mph, winds are expected to begin battering the Leeward Islands Tuesday. According to forecasters, a powerful high-pressure ridge, which is steering the storm, will likely stay in place over the next few days.
In five days, the storm will likely slide north. Exactly where Irma makes the turn will determine how it impacts Florida.
As it nears U.S. soil, experts say South Florida, particularly the Keys, are increasingly likely to be affected by tropical storm force winds as early as Friday. Governor Rick Scott (R-Fla.) has already declared a state of emergency for all 67 counties, with all 7,000 members of the state’s National Guard asked to report to duty on Friday.
“This morning, I am requesting the president declare a pre-landfall emergency for the state of Florida to help preposition necessary resources and support emergency protective measures across the state,” he said. “It is crucial that we have access to every available resource to protect our families and communities.”
According to The Miami Herald, Monroe County announced it will begin issuing mandatory evacuation orders for visitors at sunrise on Wednesday. Reportedly, residents will also be ordered to leave, although county officials have not been given a time for those evacuations.
Schools and county offices will also be closed, beginning Wednesday, officials said.
“If ever there was a storm to take seriously in the Keys, this is it,” Monroe County Emergency Management Director Martin Senterfitt reportedly said. “The sooner people leave, the better.”
The Herald reports:
“Hurricane watches have also been issued for portions of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the southeastern Bahamas and Turks and Caicos, with fierce winds, storm surge and heavy rain Thursday and Friday. In Puerto Rico, the governor has declared a state of emergency and is preparing to open 456 shelters that can house more than 62,000. Puerto Rico’s power company also warned that Irma could cut off the island’s electricity for four to six months.”
At 11 a.m., Irma was located 225 miles east of Antigua, heading west at 14 mph.
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