Hurricane Irma intensified as a Category 5 storm, hitting Cuba Friday night and now taking aim at the Florida Keys and the southwest coast of Florida, based on the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center.
Irma is expected to hit the Keys on Sunday morning and while the the storm’s track and intensity can fluctuate, it s expected to remain a powerful hurricane as it approaches Florida, forecasters said.
As of the 11 p.m. advisory, the storm regained its Category 5 status with 160 mph winds, up from 155 mph winds at the 8 p.m. advisory.
Irma made landfall Friday night on the Camaguey Archipelago of Cuba.
As of 11 p.m., the storm was about 300 miles from Miami and is traveling at 13 mph.
There is still plenty of time for a wobble or shift in course and tracks can have an 80- to 90-mile margin of error two days out, National Hurricane Center forecaster Mike Brennan said. So the Southeast coast remains very much in play for serious damage.
Where the storm will make landfall in Florida remains uncertain, but the latest forecast suggests Irma is heading west — and away from the heavily populated coast of Miami. On its projected track, Irma could make landfall somewhere in the Middle Keys early Sunday morning with potentially catastrophic winds, then continue toward the Southwest coast in the afternoon.
And with a storm so large, it’s unlikely that anywhere in South Florida will dodge Irma’s fury. The National Weather Service continues to rank risks from wind and storm surge over the coming days as extreme.
“We still could have 100-plus mile per hour gusts over the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and even Palm Beach metro areas,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Scharfenberg. “We’re not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination.”
All of South Florida remains under a hurricane warning, with evacuation orders for parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties that include 680,000 people in Miami-Dade. All residents and visitors have been ordered out of the Keys. A watch has also been extended north along the east coast to Sebastian Inlet and on the west coast to Anna Maria Island, essentially putting the entire lower half of the state on alert.
On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott also ordered seven cities evacuated just south of Lake Okeechobee over concerns that the lake’s 1930s-era dike might fail. Evacuations also spread across 15 other counties, including parts of Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Collier and Pinellas counties.
The South Florida coast and Keys are also under a storm surge warning, with surge levels projected to reach between five and 10 feet on the east coast and eight to 12 feet from Cape Sable to Captiva. Forecasters warned that the Naples area could see a significant surge as Irma pushes water across the Gulf’s continental shelf.
The risk for flood-prone Tampa Bay is profound and the area is under a storm surge warning.