[UPDATE BELOW] With Texas still reeling from Hurricane Harvey, Florida is bracing for a potential Category 4 or 5 hurricane of its own—Hurricane Irma is hurtling toward the Caribbean, with weather experts predicting it could hit Florida by the weekend.
Irma has strengthened to a Category 5 storm, and will likely hit the Leeward Islands—including Antigua and Barbuda and Montserrat—today. Puerto Rico is expected to find itself in the eye of the storm late tomorrow, and yesterday Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard.
Though the storm is still far from Florida, it's possible it will turn north and hit the eastern coast over the weekend. Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency yesterday, warning that Irma is a "life-threatening" storm. "In Florida, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and while the exact path of Irma is not absolutely known at this time, we cannot afford to not be prepared," he said in a statement.
Weather experts say East Coast residents, both in Florida and further north, should start preparing for possible landfall now. "This hurricane has the potential to be a major event for the East Coast. It also has the potential to significantly strain FEMA and other governmental resources occurring so quickly on the heels of Harvey," and other governmental resources occurring so quickly on the heels of Harvey,” Evan Myers, Accuweather's expert senior meteorologist and chief operating officer, said.
The storm could bring devastating winds, storm surges and flash floods to affected areas, experts said. Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Martin, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and St. Barts, and the US and British Virgin Islands have all been issued hurricane warnings.
And Miami, at least, is prepared.
— Tom Martinelli (@firstnameTom) September 4, 2017
Update 1:05 p.m.: Hurricane Irma is now considered the strongest recording Atlantic hurricane outside the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, according to forecasters with the National Hurricane Center.
Monroe County, which includes Key West and Everglades National Park, will issue mandatory evacuation orders for visitors at sunrise tomorrow, per the Miami Herald.