UPDATE: Hurricane Irma strengthens.
A compact Hurricane Irma was moving steadily west on Saturday night, but is projected to grow into a powerful storm over the next two to three days.
In the 11 p.m. advisory, National Hurricane Center forecasters said Irma’s speed was 14 mph with sustained Category 2 winds of 110 mph, placing it about 1,030 miles from the Leeward Islands. It is expected to threaten the islands from Guadeloupe northward as early as Tuesday night when it could strengthen into a Category 3 or 4 hurricane.
“Irma is currently a small hurricane, with hurricane-force winds extending outward up to 25 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extending outward up to 70 miles,” the advisory said. “Irma is expected to be a major hurricane when it moves closer to the Lesser Antilles early next week, producing rough surf and rip currents. Irma could also cause dangerous wind, storm surge, and rainfall impacts on some islands, although it is too soon to specify where and when those hazards could occur.”
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The big question is what Irma will be doing by Wednesday, when “confidence beyond 3 days is then much lower,” the advisory said. Various models of the storm’s path diverge at that point depending on what happens when Irma, currently being steered to the west-southwest by a high pressure ridge, turns to the northwest.
“It is much too early to determine what direct impacts Irma will have on the Bahamas and the continental U.S.,” forecasters said.
The NHC’s map has Irma’s cone over Puerto Rico by Wednesday night and over northern Hispaniola by Thursday night. Residents of the Lesser Antilles, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas were being encouraged to monitor Irma’s progress.
A NOAA Hurricane Hunter plane was to be dispatched Sunday on a reconnaissance flight to check Irma’s intensity and size.
If Irma was to strike the U.S., models project the earliest landfall next weekend or early in the week of Sept. 11. Other tracks have Irma moving safely east of the U.S. East Coast.
Hurricane Andrew was also a compact system before it made landfall in south Florida 25 years ago.