Hurricane Irma on track for a "worst case" scenario in South Florida

AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — 10 deaths and utter devastation are being reported in the wake of Hurricane Irma’s track through the Caribbean.

The longest-lived 185 mph hurricane in history (37 hours) weakened only slightly as it slammed into the Turks and Caicos Islands Wednesday afternoon. The Category 5 storm’s winds weakened to 165 with gusts to 200 mph as it approached the southeastern Bahamas Wednesday night.

As of this morning, it has weakened slightly again, now a category 4 storm with 155 mph winds. It’s very important to remember, however, this “weakening” is inconsequential.  Current intensity is just 2 mph shy of category 5 strength.

A persistent westerly track prompted the National Hurricane Center to shift the forecast track slightly westward, meaning a potential worst case scenario for the entire east coast of Florida, but with an especially high risk of catastrophic damage and flooding from the Keys to Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.

Hurricane Irma’s death toll continued to rise Wednesday, with fatalities reported on several islands in the northeastern Caribbean. Officials in Barbuda and St. Martin described the islands as “destroyed.” Barbuda, St. Barthelemy, St. Martin and the British Virgin Islands all took direct hits.

Some islands in the southern Bahamas may be buried under 15-20 feet of ocean rise as the storm passes. Mandatory evacuations have begun in Florida, where the storm is expected to arrive this weekend, potentially as a Category 4 hurricane. Storm surge and hurricane watches are already in effect for southeast Florida and the Florida Keys, where Irma may make landfall between Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Irma, which intensified to a category 5 storm early Tuesday, is breaking records. There has never been any hurricane in observed history this strong, for this long. It maintained 185 mph winds for 37 hours, the longest for any storm on record globally in the satellite era, according to Dr. Phil Klotzbach. The previous record was 24 hours set by Super Typhoon Haiyan near the Philippines.

Irma’s 185 mph maximum sustained wind speed is higher than any other storm on record in the Atlantic, outside the Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico. The strongest storm ever recorded in the entire Atlantic Basin was Hurricane Allen (Gulf of Mexico) in 1980, with winds of 190 mph.

With winds of 185 mph, Hurricane Irma tied the 1935 Labor Day Florida Keys hurricane as the most powerful on record to make landfall in the Atlantic basin, tying two other hurricanes as the third most intense landfalling tropical cyclone ever recorded on the planet.

Only two super-typhoons that struck the Philippines had higher wind speeds, and by only 5 miles per hour. All three of these storms have struck within the past five years. Scientists say warming of the earth, ocean and atmosphere is largely responsible for the sharp increase in extreme weather events.

 

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