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We are quickly running out of adjectives to describe the destructive potential of Hurricane Irma. As of 2pm ET on Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center upgraded the storm’s sustained winds to 185mph. This is near-record speed for a storm in the Atlantic basin, which includes the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico.
official forecast calls for Irma to bring catastrophic winds and potential storm surges to the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and the UK territory of Turks and Caicos this week. Then the forecast brings the storm to the Florida Keys as a major hurricane by late Saturday night or Sunday.
There remains a fair amount of spread in the model forecasts at that point. Irma’s intensity as it approaches Florida will depend considerably on whether the hurricane spends a lot of time over Cuba or if its center remains north of the island as it approaches the Straits of Florida.
Hurricane Harvey at the end of August was the result of inland flooding, Irma at this time has a much larger field of hurricane-force winds. Its primary threats will therefore be winds and storm surge.