'Potentially catastrophic' Hurricane Irma nears eastern Caribbean islands | WeatherWatch.co.nz

'Potentially catastrophic' Hurricane Irma nears eastern Caribbean islands


Category 5 Hurricane Irma has become one of the strongest storms recorded in the Atlantic, and is threatening to slam into Caribbean islands including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands with "potentially catastrophic" force on Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said.

It's too early to tell whether the storm will affect the US mainland, but current forecast tracks show it could turn toward Florida over the weekend.
 
Irma was churning west Tuesday evening in the Atlantic with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph -- well above the 300km/h threshold for a Category 5 -- about 200kms east of Antigua and Barbuda, the hurricane center said.
 
The last storm with sustained winds that strong in the Atlantic was 2005's Hurricane Wilma, which weakened before it brushed Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and crossed Florida. Its Atlantic wind speeds are behind only 1980's Hurricane Allen, which peaked at 305km/h at sea.
 
Irma's forecast track currently has it near or over Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Anguilla by early Wednesday, and the British and US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday afternoon.
Preparations to protect life and property in those areas "should be rushed to completion," the hurricane center said in a 5 p.m. ET advisory.
 
"We could see storm surges of 7 to 11 feet (2 to 3.5 metres) -- that's certainly life-threatening -- and very, very heavy flooding rainfall" in the far northeastern Caribbean islands as well as winds that could cause catastrophic damage near the eye wall, the hurricane center's Michael Brennan said.
Computer models show the system possibly near the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday and Friday, and Cuba on Friday and Saturday -- and potentially turning north toward Florida by the weekend.

 

- Track Irma here via CNN

- Read my from CNN on Irma here

- Watch CNN on Sky Channel 087 in New Zealand for ongoing updates. 

- WeatherWatch.co.nz will have special updates once Irma approaches the US, most likely this weekend.