Update 11 p.m.: As Irma makes its way west, the Caribbean braces for a “potentially catastrophic” Category 5 , according to the National Hurricane Center’s latest update.
In the 11 p.m. update, forecasters said the maximum sustained winds remained at 185 mph as the “extremely dangerous core” of Irma is expected to move over the northern Leeward Islands Tuesday night.
The storm will make its way near or over the Virgin Islands and get close to Puerto Rico Wednesday, according to the hurricane center.
As far as rainfall, Irma is expected to drop anywhere from 8 inches to 12 inches of rain as it passes over the Leeward Islands Tuesday night into Wednesday, with isolated instances of 20 inches. Hurricane-strength winds will extend 50 miles from the center while tropical-storm-force winds will extend 175 miles.
As in previous updates, the storm is expected to keep a western path until it makes a slight west-northweste turn in the coming days.
The next update from the hurricane center is expected at 2 a.m.
Update 8 p.m.: Hurricane Irma continues west Tuesday evening with sustained winds of 185 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The weather service issued a hurricane watch for Cuba as well as tropical storm watches for the Dominican Republic. Haiti and the southeastern parts of the Bahamas are under a hurricane watch.
Irma continues to move west Tuesday night, but is expected to make a west-northwest turn in the next few hours and continue in that direction the next few days.
Update 5 p.m.: Hurricane Irma maintained its 185 mph winds this afternoon as it approaches the northern Leeward Islands as a “potentially catastrophic” tropical cyclone.
As of the 5 p.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Irma was 130 miles east of Antigua and moving at 15 mph to the west. It’s minimum central pressure was 926 millibars.
A turn toward the west-northwest is forecast for tonight and continue for the next couple of days.
There are no evacuations in Palm Beach County, but Monroe County has ordered mandatory evacuations for visitors and residents of the Florida Keys.
Tropical Storm Jose is expected to reach hurricane strength over the next 36 hours, with winds reaching 110 mph over three days.
But Jose’s path already seems less threatening than Irma, taking a curve to the northwest away from the U.S. coast.
Update 3:35 p.m.: Gov. Rick Scott has suspended all tolls on Florida roadways to help with evacuations which will begin tomorrow in the Florida Keys and for special needs people in Miami-Dade County.
Monroe County has ordered mandatory evacuations beginning at 7 a.m. Wednesday, followed by mandatory residential evacuations at 7 p.m.
By suspending all tolls, Floridians and visitors will more easily be able to prepare for any potential storm impacts, access important hurricane supplies, and quickly and safely evacuate when necessary.
No evacuations have been ordered in Palm Beach County.
Update 2 p.m.: The National Hurricane Center says Irma has reached a catastrophic 185 mph category 5 storm as it nears the northern Leeward Islands.
As of the 2 p.m. advisory, Irma was 180 miles east of Antigua and moving west at 14 mph.
“This will likely be stronger than anything anyone alive has ever felt in the northern Leeward Islands,” said Jonathan Erdman, a senior forecaster for Weather.com. “It’s unknown what kind of devastation is going to occur, but it will be severe.”
A Hurricane Warning is in effect for…
* Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts, and Nevis
* Saba, St. Eustatius, and Sint Maarten
* Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy
* British Virgin Islands
* U.S. Virgin Islands
* Puerto Rico, Vieques, and Culebra
A Hurricane Watch is in effect for…
* Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to the northern border with
* Haiti from the northern border with the Dominican Republic to Le
Mole St. Nicholas
* Turks and Caicos Islands
* Southeastern Bahamas
Update 11 a.m.: The National Hurricane Center says “a potentially catastrophic” Irma has strengthened to 180 mph winds, up slightly from the 8 a.m. advisory.
The increase in wind speeds makes Irma the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic basin outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico in hurricane center records.
Behind it, is newly-formed Tropical Storm Jose.
Irma is 225 miles east of Antigua and moving west at 14 mph.
The government of the Bahamas has issued a hurricane watch for the Turks and Caicols Islands and the southeastern Bahamas, including the Acklins, Crooked Island, Long Cay, the Inaguas and the Ragged Islands.
While Irma is a huge storm, roughly the size of Texas, hurricane-force winds extend up to 60 miles from the center with tropical storm-force winds out up to 160 miles.
Forecasters said the Bermuda High will continue storm Irma west through the next several days. After that, the storm is expected to to make a right turn.
Update 8 a.m.: Hurricane Irma has strengthened to Category 5 hurricane with 175 mph winds.
The National Hurricane Center issued a special 8 a.m. advisory saying an Air Force Hurricane Hunter found an intensifying Irma this morning as it approaches the Leeward Islands.
Irma’s minimum central pressure is at 929 mb. It is moving west at a speedy 14 mph.
Forecasters said Irma could strengthen to 180 mph over the next 12 hours.
The increase to 175 mph winds makes Irma the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic since Hurricane Felix in 2007, according to Colorado State University researcher Phil Klotzbach.
Irma is still about 1,500 miles away from Florida, but all of South Florida, including Palm Beach County, is currently in the five-day forecast track cone.
Previous story: Irma reached wind speeds of 150 mph this morning as it treks west where Palm Beach County is now in the 5-day forecast track cone.
Irma, still a Category 4 storm, is moving at 13 mph. Hurricane force winds extend out up to 45 miles from Irma’s center with tropical storm-force winds extending 140 miles.
The National Hurricane Center said in its 5 a.m. advisory that Irma should remain moving west for the next 24 hours as it is steered by the very strong Bermuda High. After that, it will turn to the west-northwest.
“What I want to convey is that you should have your hurricane plan and preparation done Friday,” said Dave Roberts, a specialist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami. “Don’t freak out, but focus on your hurricane plan and preparations for any kind of impact.”
The National Weather Service in Miami said the window of greatest concern is Friday through Monday.
According to the NHC’s new product that estimates when damaging winds may begin, Monroe through Palm Beach counties had between a 30 to 60 percent chance of feeling tropical storm-force winds beginning late Friday.
Early forecast models continue to show a strong right turn into Florida, but have moved further west with fewer showing the Matthew-like pattern that would skim the east coast.
Still, forecasters at AccuWeather were not ready to rule out east coast impacts.
“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,” said Evan Myers, AccuWeather expert senior meteorologist and chief operating officer.
Irma is forecast to reach the northern portion of the Leeward Islands tonight or early Wednesday before moving west-northwest to be on Puerto Rico’s doorstep Wednesday evening.
Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for all 67 counties in Florida on Monday.
While hurricane center forecasters repeated that people should not focus on the exact forecast track – storms stay inside the cone an average of 66 percent of the time – “there is an increasing chance of seeing impacts from Irma in Florida and the Florida Keys later this week and weekend.”
Irma’s future, and that of the U.S. coastline, is dependent on two atmospheric features: the Bermuda High and an upper-level low moving west to east through the central U.S.
The clockwise churning high is what’s keeping Irma on a westward track, moving it closer to Florida.
If the upper-level low catches Irma and shoots it north, the hurricane could parallel the east coast of Florida, similar to the path Hurricane Matthew took in October. If Irma misses the upper-level low, it could travel further west on a track that has it making an abrupt right turn into the Keys and the tip of the state.
“Both cases involve having a hurricane passing very close to the Palm Beaches on Sunday night or Monday,” said Dan Kottlowski, a hurricane expert with AccuWeather. “The good news is, Floridians still have time to prepare.”
On Irma’s heels is a system the NHC is giving a 90 percent chance of development over five days.
If the system becomes a tropical storm, it would be named Jose.