Hurricane Irma threw its first 185 mph punch at land early Wednesday on the islands of Barbuda and Antigua and was headed for the Virgin Islands later today and then toward Puerto Rico, the National Hurricane Center said.
The storm, the most powerful recorded hurricane ever in the Atlantic, was driving north-northwest at about 16 mph, the hurricane center said, and was likely to stay on that track for the next two days.
A computer model showed that tropical-storm-force winds, which now go out 175 miles from the eye of the hurricane, will begin buffeting southern Florida on Saturday morning.
The predicted storm track issued at 6 a.m. has bent to the north from Tuesday’s models and seems aimed at Florida.
ABC11 meteorologist Don Schwenneker said combining various models makes predictions tenuous, however.
“If we look … we do see a more eastward shift [from Tuesday] in the modeling,” Schwenneker said, but we continue to see a BIG spread in the model solutions. And don’t just focus on the fact that the storms are now east….”
“The models will move the storms back and forth. When we see several runs where the storm stays in the same path, then we start to know where it’s headed,” Schwenneker added.
Forecasters at the National Weather Service’s Wilmington station said Wednesday that there is a high risk of rip currents along the southwestern North Carolina coast because of Irma.
“Swells from Hurricane Irma will create a prolonged period of dangerous beach conditions in the form of numerous strong rip currents and rough surf mid- and late week,” they said.
At Morehead City, forecasters said there was a moderate chance of rip currents Wednesday, but that will increase on Thursday and remain high through Tuesday.
“A high rip-current risk is likely through much of the period, with large surf bringing dangerous shore break with possible beach erosion late in the week and into the weekend,” according to their assessment.
Damage in the first-hit islands was believed to be extensive, but communications went down during the night as Irma hit, and the seriousness was not known right away, the Associated Press reported.
The hurricane center said Irma could fluctuate between a Category 4 and a Category 5 storm over the next two days but will remain very dangerous.
As Irma began to batter places where people live, forecasters were watching two tropical storms that have formed behind Irma – Jose in the Atlantic and Katia in the western Caribbean Sea near Mexico.