Hurricane Irma entered “beast mode” Tuesday according to one meteorologist, as the storm grew far beyond the level needed to give it the most powerful Category 5 ranking.
The Saffir-Simpson wind scale assigns a Categoy 5 rating to storms with winds above 156 mph. Irma currently has winds of 175 mph, with gusts up to 186 mph, leading meteorologist Ryan Maue to comment on its power.
“Oh my … Hurricane #Irma just entered “beast mode” … incredible convection flaring. Satellite estimates now > T 7.0 and Category 5,” he tweeted. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued an update Tuesday on the storm’s location and strength.
“At 1100 AM AST (1500 UTC), the eye of Hurricane Irma was located near latitude 16.8 North, longitude 58.4 West. Irma is moving toward the west near 14 mph (22 km/h), and this general motion is expected to continue today, followed by a turn toward the west-northwest tonight. On the forecast track, the extremely dangerous core of Irma is forecast to move over portions of the northern Leeward Islands tonight and early Wednesday,” it said.
“Reports from an Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate that the maximum sustained winds are near 180 mph (285 km/h) with higher gusts. Irma is a an extremely dangerous category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Irma is forecast to remain a powerful category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days,” it added.
Hurricane warnings covered much of the Caribbean Tuesday, including Puerto Rico, Antigua, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, Anguilla; Montserrat, St. Kitts; Nevis, Saba; St. Eustatius, St. Martin/Sint Maarten and St. Barts.
Cuba and Haiti are also likely to be in the path of Irma, forecasters said.
Although forecasts expect Irma will hit the U.S., the time and place remain uncertain. An NOAA forecastpredicts the leading edge of Irma’s winds will be felt in Florida by Saturday, while the storm is still out to sea.
Forecaster Brian McNoldy tried to put the various pieces together as he looked at Irma’s projected path.
“As far as timing goes, south Florida would be looking at the worst conditions on Sunday-Monday (10th-11th), with tropical storm force winds arriving on Saturday (9th). It remains to be seen what ‘worst’ means as that is dependent on precisely how close the eyewall gets to a certain location,” he wrote.
McNoldy said there are many potential targets.
“If it turns north just prior to reaching the Florida peninsula, the Carolinas become a likely target, and the worst conditions would be on Monday-Tuesday (11th-12th) with tropical storm conditions arriving Monday (11th),” he wrote.
He indicated he does not expect another Texas landfall, but said it is too soon to rule out anything.
“At this point, a westward track into and across the Gulf of Mexico seems very unlikely, but given the model trends, I wouldn’t rule it out completely just yet. However, note the scenario where the storm turns north just after passing the Florida peninsula and tracks up the west coast of Florida. This threat cannot be ignored either,” he wrote.
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