Business Insider reports today, Sept. 8, that after slamming into several Caribbean islands as a Category 5 storm on Wednesday and Thursday, killing at least 23 people, weather models show that Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in recorded history, will arrive in South Florida this weekend as a Category 4 storm.
Category 4 means sustained winds of 130-156 mph, and damages to houses, trees and power lines which could make places unlivable for weeks or months after.
The Category 5 label means maximum sustained winds of above 157 mph near its core. In the case of Hurricane Irma, gusts have been recorded in excess of 215 mph. This makes Irma as powerful as a severe tornado, which can tear off roofs, level homes, toss cars, overturn trains, and uproot large trees.
Already, parts of Florida are under hurricane and storm-surge warnings as of 2 p.m. ET today. Governor Rick Scott has activated all 7,000 members of the state’s National Guard, and parts of South Florida and Georgia are under mandatory evacuation orders. To free up federal resources in anticipation of Irma’s damages, President Donald Trump already has declared a state of emergency for Florida.
Here is the extent of Florida’s hurricane warnings:
- From Jupiter Inlet southward around the peninsula to Bonita Beach.
- Florida Keys, Lake Okeechobee, and Florida Bay.
- Storm-surge warnings are in effect from Sebastian Inlet around the peninsula to Venice.
- Storm-surge and hurricane watches were initiated for the east coast of Florida north of Jupiter Inlet to the Flagler/Volusia County line and for the west coast of Florida north of Bonita Beach to Anclote River.
Irma formed off the coast of western Africa last week and almost immediately started barreling toward the Caribbean Sea. Irma officially became a named storm on August 30 and was classified as a hurricane the next day. Since then, it has gained and maintained strength from the moisture of unusually warm waters in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
On Wednesday, Sept. 6, a Category 5 Hurricane Irma devastated Barbuda, an island east of Puerto Rico. Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, said Barbuda was “totally demolished,” with 90% of its buildings destroyed. Communication with the island was cut off because of the destruction. To make matters worse, another hurricane, Jose, is now approaching the island. So Barbuda officials are trying to evacuate the entire population of 1,800.
Irma also destroyed an estimated 95% of buildings in parts of St. Martin and devastated popular tourist destinations in St. Barts. It slammed the Virgin Islands before passing just north of Puerto Rico. Winds were still strong enough to cut off power to half of Puerto Rico’s residents, however, and reports suggest some may not regain electricity for months.
Although Irma is now a Category 4 storm, with sustained winds of 155 mph, officials caution that it should not be referred to as “downgraded” — it’s still a life-threatening, catastrophic storm with major population centers in its path, and it’s likely to fluctuate between categories 4 and 5 before making landfall in Florida.
Please pray for Florida. Please pray for FOTM readers, like Alma, who are in Florida.