Update 8:05 a.m.: An intermediate advisory from the National Hurricane Center has determined that Irma is now a Category 5 hurricane, the most powerful level on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale, with sustained winds of 175 m.p.h. The hurricane is expected to make landfall on the Leeward Islands overnight.
A full update will come after the next full advisory at 11 a.m.
Powerful Hurricane Irma has reached Category 4 strength as officials in the Caribbean and on U.S coastlines prepare for the possibility of impact Monday.
According to the National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. advisory, Irma has maximum sustained winds of 130 mph, moving to the west at 13 mph. Hurricane force winds extend 35 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds extend 140 miles from the center.
Hurricane warnings have been put in place for most of the Leeward Islands, with watches in place for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Current forecast tracks have Irma taking a west to northwestern track running along the Caribbean islands, with the center of circulation somewhere near Cuba and the Bahamas by the weekend. This is a departure from previous forecast tracks, which estimated a more pronounced northwestern turn.
Forecast estimates putting winds near Category 5 strength by mid-week if the center of circulation doesn’t go directly over land.
Forecast discussion from the National Hurricane Center says the forecast tracks have been moved to the south due to a mid-altitude trough which is now believed to be both stronger and extend farther westward than previously forecasted.
Forecasters still caution that it is too early to tell what, if any, impacts Irma could have on the continental United States, but warn that the chances of effects from Irma along the Florida Peninsula are increasing and encourage those living in hurricane-prone areas to ensure they have a hurricane plan in place.
Wind speed probability estimates give a 20 to 30 percent chance that Southwest Florida could see tropical storm force winds at some point in the next five days related to Irma, and a 5 to 10 percent change of 50-knot winds. The earliest reasonable arrival of such winds could be sometime Friday afternoon or evening.
The National Hurricane center is also watching a pair of low pressure systems with potential to develop further. A low in the eastern Atlantic some 1,000 miles behind Irma is expected to generate into a tropical depression later this week, while another low in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico is given an approximately 50 percent chance of strengthening as it moves through Gulf waters. The low sits in a similar position to where Hurricane Harvey was before its rapid strengthening last month, which devastated the Texas coastline.
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