Lake Okeechobee was the best it looked in years, until this happened

Paul Gray, of Audubon Florida, lifts up his anchor with strings of dead yellowing eel grass where beds of water lilies once floated above fields of the grass. The murky water is too deep and dark for plants to thrive on Lake Okeechobee. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

 

Paul Gray steeled himself as he took the stick of the airboat and fired up its blades.

“It’s going to be kind of sad because the lake has really been pounded,” he said, before aiming the boat’s stubby bow into the sediment-choked soul of Florida.

Nearly nine months ago, Hurricane Irma raked over Lake Okeechobee, churning up its nutrient-laden guts with 80-mph gusts and turning portions into a molasses-colored broth.

In the wellspring of Everglades life, wading birds still forage, alligators hunt, and scores of bass are caught by happy anglers. Ringed by cumulus clouds that boil up over sun-warmed land, fauna abounds under blue skies in Lake Okeechobee.

RELATED: One tropical system can push Lake Okeechobee over the edge

But it’s what Gray, a lake expert for Audubon Florida, didn’t see in a survey last week that has him concerned.

Where beds of water lilies once floated above fields of emerald eel grass, there is only murky water, too deep and dark for plants to thrive.

“Everyone is asking what happened to the lake, but what happened …” READ the full story at MyPalmBeachPost.com and find out what current lake levels mean about the future of discharges into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. 

A purple gallinule walks over lily pads with its big feet on Lake Okeechobee. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

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Hurricane Irma hits northwestern coast, weakens; tropical storm warning canceled for S. Fla.

Update, 5:45 a.m.: The National Weather Service has dropped the tropical storm warning for South Florida.

Update 5 a.m.: Hurricane Irma continues to move across Florida’s northwestern coast, weakening as it goes.

Currently it is 55 miles east-southeast of Cedar Key and about 100 miles north of Tampa. Irma is still a Category 1, but barely, with 75-mile-an-hour winds.

Irma is expected to become a tropical storm as it crosses into Georgia.

Update 2 a.m.: Hurricane Irma has weakened to a Category 1 hurricane with top winds up  to 85 mph  as it moves 25 miles northeast  of Tampa. Irma is projected to become a tropical storm later today as it moves toward the Georgia border.

It is moving northwest at 15 mph, and  can’t get out of Florida fast enough to suit most residents.

“Irma has a very large wind field,” a 2 a.m. advisory from the  National Weather Service noted. Residents of Palm Beach County probably do not need to be told that, as gusts pounded southeast Florida for hours on end. Winds are expected to ease to below 40 mph in the county by daybreak.

Daylight brings a chance to assess the damage across the state.

Update 1 a.m.: Hurricane Irma sustains Category 2 hurricane winds of 100 mph as its center moves 15 miles southwest of Lakeland.

It is still moving north at 14 mph.

Clearwater Beach measured a gust of 96 mph, bu high winds persisted much farther away and forecasters warned against venturing out because of a variety of hazards.

“Flooding is occurring across Florida with Hurricane Irma, ” the National Weather Service tweeted. “At night it can be impossible to see. Stay indoors!”

The intracoastal waterway splashes over the sea wall in West Palm Beach as Hurricane Irma moves through Florida Sunday.. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

 

Midnight: The  center of Hurricane Irma moved 25 miles south of Lakeland by midnight with 100 mph top winds, but it sent relentless gusts and rain for more than 400 miles from its center and refused to go quietly across South Florida including Palm Beach County.

The storm was moving 14 mph north, but forecasters left a tropical storm warning in place from Jupiter Inlet south as Sunday came to a close.

Tornado warning for WPB, Boynton and Delray until 4:15 p.m.

Update 3:52 pm.: A tornado warning has been issued for parts of Palm  Beach County including West Palm Beach, Boynton Beach and Delray Beach until 4:15 p.m.

 

UPDATE, 2:40 p.m.: The National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning for central Palm Beach County, including Wellington, Royal Palm Beach and Loxahatchee Groves, until 3 p.m.

The storm is moving northwest at 80 mph.

UPDATE, 2:27 p.m.: The National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning for southeastern Palm Beach County, including Boca Raton, Boynton Beach and Delray Beach, until 2:45 p.m.

The storm is moving northwest at 90 mph.

UPDATE, 1:50 p.m.: The National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning for eastern Broward County and parts of southeastern Palm Beach County, effective until 2:15 p.m.

A severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado was located 8 miles east of Surfside and moving northwest at 90 mph.

Boca Raton and other cities were included in this warning.

Update 3:45 a.m.: The National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning for southern Palm Beach County through 4:15 a.m.

Affected communities include Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Boynton Beach.

NWS radar detected a band of powerful thunderstorms moving northwest at 30 mph.

Update 3 a.m.: Hurricane Irma, a Category 4 storm still packing 130 mph winds, inched closer to Key West, now just 65 miles southeast.

In addition, the National Hurricane Center showed that the National Ocean Service’s station on Pulaski Shoals Light — near the Dry Tortugas — experienced a sustained wind of 62 mph and a gust to 76 mph.

Update 2 a.m.:  Hurricane Irma’s top winds have increased to 130 mph, making it a Category 4 storm as it moves within 70 miles of Key West.

“On the forecast track, the center of Irma is expected to cross the Lower Florida Keys during the next several hours, and then move near or along the west coast of Florida this afternoon through Monday morning,” a 2 a.m. National Hurricane Center advisory said.  “Irma should then move inland over the Florida panhandle and southwestern Georgia Monday afternoon.”

The storm is still moving northwest at 6 mph, but is expected to pick up speed in coming hours, forecasters said. Despite earlier projections it might remain a Category 3 storm,  it has gained strength again as it nears Florida.

“Irma is forecast to restrengthen a little more while it moves through the Straits of Florida and remain a powerful hurricane as it approaches the Florida Keys and the west coast of Florida,” the advisory said.

The storm’s reach has widened, with tropical storm-force winds of 39 mph or more now extending 205 miles.

Update 1 a.m.:  Hurricane Irma is “slowly tracking toward the western Florida Keys,” a National Hurricane Center update says, with top wind speeds of 120 mph.

The Category 3 storm is moving about 6 mph northwest, about 80 miles to the  southeast  of Key West. Sluggish progress  leaves the west coast and Panhandle of Florida wondering where it will make landfall, while southeast Florida sweats out thunderstorms and tornado threats.  A slower pace also means more time to dump a potential 10 trillion gallons of rain on the state.  Parts of Palm Beach County could see more than 10 inches of rain.

More than 200,000 people in southeast Florida have lost power, including more than 28,000 in Palm Beach County.

 

 

Hurricane Irma has advanced within 80 miles of Key West, producing gusts up 68 mph there, but a westward drift has removed Jupiter inlet and areas south of it from a storm surge warning.

The storm remain a Category 3 hurricane, moving slowly northwest at 6 mph with top winds of 120 mph in a midnight update from the National Hurricane Center.

 

Business owners in Palm Beach County had a message for Hurricane Irma. (Greg Lovett/Palm Beach Post)

A wobble one way or the other in the next few hours has huge consequences for Florida’s west coast and potentially the Panhandle, and  the storm’s bands continue to send thunderstorms, high winds, rain and the threat of tornadoes to southeast Florida.

Advancing over warm open water opens the possibility Irma will strengthen, but the latest projections from the National Hurricane Center suggest it will remain a Category 3 storm in the next 24 hours. That makes it still a very dangerous storm, but the risks to Palm Beach County and the Treasure appear to be easing. West Palm Beach still has a 59 percent of  receiving tropical storm-force winds of 39 mph or more in the next 12 hours, but the risk of sustained hurricane winds, 74 mph or more, is down to about 1 percent.

 

 

 

 

Tornado warning issued for St. Lucie County until 10 p.m.

Update 9:38 p.m.: Hurricane Irma’s outer bands continue to pound the state. A tornado warning  has been issued for northeastern St. Lucie County until 10 p.m.
At 9:33 pm.,  a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado was located near Fort Pierce Inlet, moving west at 25 mph, officials said.

Update 7:51 pm: A tornado watch remains in effect for parts of western Palm Beach Co.

South Florida under hurricane warning as Irma approaches

Update 11 p.m.: South Florida is now under a hurricane warning as Irma approaches the peninsula.

The maximum sustained winds have weakened a bit to 165 mph, but remains a strong Category 5 hurricane.

The chance of tropical storm-force winds has risen to 93 percent in West Palm Beach. Hurricane chance is 47 percent, according to forecasters.

Update 8 p.m.: Hurricane Irma’s top winds remained at 175 mph about 55 miles west of Grand Turk Island as it maintained a course aimed at South Florida.

The Category 5 storm continues moving northwest at about 16 mph, holding a collision course with South Florida where it could be a strong Category 4 storm by Sunday. Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 70 miles from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 185 miles, giving it a damaging reach as wide as the state itself.

The dangers of storm surge and hurricane winds this strong are “life threatening,” Robert Molleda, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami, stressed again in an 8:30 p.m briefing.

Minutes later, Gov. Rick Scott ordered mandatory evacuations from seven cities around Lake Okeechobee Friday: South Bay, Lake Harbor, Pahokee, Moore Haven, Clewiston, Belle Glade and Canal Point.

A statement from Scott’s office said, “Based on recent forecasts, the U.S. Army Corps has been reviewing how the federally operated Herbert Hoover Dike will be impacted. Governor Scott spoke to Col. Jason Kirk with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today and the Corps believes there will be additional impacts from excessive wind pushing some water over the Dike. While they have assured the Governor that the structural integrity of the Dike will not be compromised, Governor Scott has ordered voluntary evacuations beginning immediately in the cities surrounding the southern half of Lake Okeechobee from Lake Port to Canal Point in Hendry, Palm Beach and Glades counties.”

Earlier Thursday, Scott said, “We cannot save you once the storm hits. Once there is an evacuation order, get out.”

As motorists clogged major arteries, Scott urged residents not to take more gas than they need at stations that have supplies.

A Hurricane Watch is in effect for Jupiter Inlet southward around the Florida peninsula to Bonita Beach, including the Florida Keys, Lake Okeechobee and Florida Bay.

A Storm Surge Watch is in effect for Jupiter Inlet southward around the Florida peninsula to Bonita Beach.

 


Update 5 p.m.:  Hurricane Irma remains a powerful Category 5 storm aimed at Florida where it is expected to make landfall as a strong Category 4 on Sunday.

Tropical storm-force winds are expected in Palm Beach County by Saturday afternoon with hurricane force-winds hitting predawn Sunday.

The National Weather Service in Miami used strong language in describing the potential impacts of Irma, including “complete destruction of mobile homes.”

“Structural damage to sturdy buildings, numerous large trees snapped or uprooted, widespread power and communication outages,” said meteorologist Kevin Scharfenberg. “We’d rather not focus on category because a Category 3 to 5 means real risk of life-threatening destructive winds.”

 

National Hurricane Center forecasters said the strong Bermuda High nudged Irma’s path further south and west.

A hurricane watch is in effect for Jupiter Inlet south around the tip of the peninsula and Lake Okeechobee. A storm surge watch is also in effect for the same area. A “watch” means there is an estimated 48 hours before hurricane-force winds will hit an area.

Update 2 p.m.:  Hurricane Irma is heading toward the Turks and Caicos Islands with 175 mph winds and moving west-northwest at 16 mph.

A Storm Surge Watch is in effect for:
*  Jupiter Inlet southward around the Florida peninsula to Bonita
Beach
* Florida Keys

A Hurricane Watch is in effect for:
* Jupiter Inlet southward around the Florida peninsula to Bonita
Beach
* Florida Keys
* Lake Okeechobee
* Florida Bay
* Cuba from Matanzas province eastward to Guantanamo province

Watch: Live Irma webcam of downtown West Palm Beach. 

Update 1 p.m.:  The National Weather Service has issued a Hurricane Irma threat graphic to give you a better idea of what to expect.

Update 11 a.m.: A hurricane watch has been issued for the Florida Peninsula from Jupiter Inlet south, including Lake Okeechobee.

A storm surge watch has also been issued for Jupiter Inlet south around the peninsula to Bonita Beach including the Florida Keys.

A watch is issued 48 hours before hurricane or storm surge conditions are expected in the area.

As of the 11 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Irma’s winds were at 175 mph and heading west-northwest at 16 mph. The minimum central pressure was 921 mb.

Watch: Live Irma webcam of downtown West Palm Beach. 

Forecasters said there has been no change in the track guidance, which brings the core of Irma to southeast Florida in about three days as a major hurricane.

While the winds may have slowed slightly from their high of 185 mph, National Hurricane Center forecasters said there is nothing to weaken the storm as it moves closer to Florida.

Hurricane force-winds extend outward up to 60 miles form the center of Irma. Tropical storm-force winds extend outward up to 185 miles.

“We know it will come very close to South Florida, but 50 miles will make all the difference between tens of billions of dollars and a few billion dollars,” said Jeff Masters, a hurricane expert and co-founder of Weather Underground. “The thing to emphasize is if you are in the cone, you are in the cone, you are in danger of a direct hit.”

Storm surge inundation levels are available on the National Hurricane Center’s website. 

Download the Palm Beach Post WeatherPlus app here.

Update 8 a.m.:  Hurricane Irma maintained its 180 mph wind speed this morning as it strafes the Dominican Republic and nears vulnerable Haiti.

Previous story: Hurricane Irma continued its ominous trek toward Florida overnight with little change in forecast path or wind intensity.

As of the 5 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center, Irma was a 180-mph major tropical cyclone moving west-northwest at 17 mph.

Under the current forecast, the center of Irma will be just north of Palm Beach County at 8 p.m. Sunday. Tropical storm-force winds could begin late Friday.

Watch: Live Irma webcam of downtown West Palm Beach. 

Download the Palm Beach Post WeatherPlus app here.

Forecasters said Irma may weaken slightly in its westward path, but that it will likely make landfall in Florida as a Category 4 hurricane.

While the center of the track is taking the storm along the east coast of the state, all of the Florida peninsula remains in the cone, and forecasters pleaded that people not focus on the center of the forecast track.

Track errors at forecast days 4 and 5 are between 175 to 225 miles.

Hurricane watches for the Keys and South Florida are expected today.

A hurricane watch means you have approximately 48 hours before hurricane-force winds reach your area. A warning is issued 36 hours in advance.

At 4 a.m. Irma was passing north of the eastern Dominican Republic and was 225 miles east-southeast of Grand Turk Island.

While Irma is not forecast to reach Florida until Sunday, tropical storm-force winds are possible as early as Friday night in portions of extreme South Florida and officials are urging everyone to have preparations complete by then.

“This is a growing and serious situation,” said Kevin Scharfenberg, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami. “We have lots of computer models, not just one, and, unfortunately, they are in very good agreement right now that there will be a hurricane in the neighborhood this weekend.”

“People need to act as if they are sure the storm is coming at its worst, even if we can’t be sure the worst is coming,” said Bryan Norcross, a Weather Channel hurricane expert who is credited with saving lives during Hurricane Andrew when he was a Miami meteorologist. “If the storm were to go right up Interstate 95, it would be worse than Wilma, significantly worse.”

Hurricane Wilma, the last storm to bear that name, hit on the west coast of Florida with Category 3-force. By the time it reached Palm Beach County, it was a Category 2.

Eric Blake, a National Hurricane Center scientist, said seeing powerhouse Irma so closely follow devastating Hurricane Harvey reminded him of the 2004-2005 storm seasons that ripped Florida from the Panhandle to Palm Beach.

“Ugh,” he said.

Perhaps at no time in history has the atmosphere been so scrutinized as this week with dozens of weather balloons launching daily across the belly of the country to measure an upper-level trough that plays a crucial role in Irma’s forecast.

It’s that trough, which is digging east with the jet stream, that could tug Irma north into a weak area on the west side of the Bermuda High and steer it to the east of Florida.

While the that path would be similar to Hurricane Matthew in 2016, forecasters said Irma is a more difficult storm to predict at this point because Matthew was coming from the south, after having already made a right turn.

“Irma is coming in from the southeast, and these storms from the southeast are much more problematic because they have to make a stronger turn,” said Dan Kottlowski, a hurricane expert with AccuWeather. “In this sense, it’s more dangerous than Matthew.”

If you haven’t yet, join Kim on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

 

Florida hurricane watches likely within hours for Cat 5 Hurricane Irma

Update 2 a.m. Thursday:  Hurricane Irma’s Category 5 winds roared relentlessly toward Florida about 140 miles northwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico, with those in its path finding little consolation that top winds eased slightly to 180 mph.

It remains the most intense Atlantic or Pacific storm on record for sustained winds above 180 mph for more than a day. Forecast models suggest a slight lean to the east, but in the official forecast track South Florida stands squarely in the danger zone and will likely see hurricane watches within hours.

Related: Know your evacuation zone. 

At least eight deaths have been blamed on the storm, which is expected to retain a Category 4 or 5 status as it closes in on Florida’s coast.

Update, 11 p.m.:  The threat to Florida is growing. Expect hurricane watches Thursday as Hurricane Irma, still packing Category 5 winds up to 185 mph, barrels toward the state with its eye 85 miles northwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“The threat of direct hurricane impacts in Florida over the weekend and early next week has increased,” a National Weather Service advisory said. “Hurricane watches will likely be issued for portions of the Florida Keys and the Florida peninsula on Thursday.”

Irma has stayed stronger longer than any Atlantic or Pacific storm, maintaining 185 mph wind speeds for more than 24 hours.

The chance that West Palm Beach will see tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 mph is now 89 percent, and 42 percent for hurricane winds of 74 mph or stronger.

The forecast calls for wind speeds to come down somewhat, to 160 mph in 48 hours and 140 mph in 96 hours, which would make it a Category 4 storm. A few signs hint at possible weakening, including slight changes in wind patterns and lightning near the eye, but there is still plenty of warm water in its path to feed its intensity, meteorologists said.

Irma’s official forecast path has not changed, showing it hitting South Florida by Sunday. “There has been a slight eastward shift in some of the track guidance models, but since the models could shift back to the west it is prudent to make little change to the official forecast at this time,” the National Weather Service said.

Update 8 p.m.: Hurricane Irma has lost no steam with powerful 185 mph winds, extending its streak as the longest-running cyclone in the Atlantic or Pacific at that intensity as its eye passed north of Puerto Rico.

Related: Know your evacuation zone. 

The projected track remains on a collision course with South Florida by Sunday.

“A Hurricane Watch may be issued for South Florida Thursday,” advised National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Scharfenberg.

“Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Irma is forecast to remain a
powerful category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days,” a National Weather Service advisory said.

The eye of the storm passed about 50 miles north of San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is traveling northwest at about 16 mph.

Tropical Storm winds are likely to arrive in South Florida Saturday, as early as the morning near Homestead to midday near Lake Okeechobee, Scharfenberg said.

Update 5 p.m.: Hurricane Irma is sustaining 185 mph winds, making it the longest tropical cyclone in the Atlantic or Pacific to maintain that strength for 24 hours.

The powerful storm is moving west-northwest at 16 mph with a minimum central pressure of 914 mb.

Hurricane center forecasters said the  most recent track guidance has shifted Irma slightly to the west, after moving it more east earlier in the day.

Tropical Storm Jose has strengthened into a hurricane with 75 mph winds, but is not expected to affect the U.S.

Update 2 p.m.: 

Hurricane experts are warning Floridians not to focus on the shifting track of Irma and to prepare for impacts from a major hurricane the likes of which many have never experienced.

Although the official forecast track from the National Hurricane Center moved to the east today, there is no guarantee it will continue in that direction.

“People need to act as if they are sure the storm is coming at its worst, even if we can’t be sure the worst is coming,” said Bryan Norcross, a Weather Channel hurricane expert who is credited with saving lives during Hurricane Andrew when he was a Miami meteorologist. “If the storm were to go right up Interstate 95, it would be worse than Wilma, significantly worse.”

Norcross, who published My Hurricane Andrew Story this year in honor of the 25th anniversary of the storm, said Irma’s path won’t be better understood until it  makes the right hand turn at the western edge of the Bermuda High, and that could be days away.

Under the current forecast, Irma is expected to hit Florida as a Category 4 storm with 145 mph winds, slowing to a Category 3 closer to Palm Beach County.

Here is what the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale says to expect from a Category 3 and 4 storm:

Category 3 (111-129 mph winds)– Devastating damage. Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.

Category 4 (130-156 mph winds)– Catastrophic wind damage will occur. Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

Update 11 a.m.: Hurricane Irma remains a Category 5 hurricane that is now closing in on the Virgin Islands after pummeling Barbuda, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy earlier this morning, the National Hurricane Center reports.

The forecast has shifted east once again since the 8 a.m. report, but forecasters note there is still a “fair amount of uncertainty” when the storm will turn north. And several computer models still take Irma over and/or west of Florida.

The errors in the forecast four or five days out can run from 175 to 225 miles.

Update 8 a.m.: Hurricane Irma is not slowing down this morning with the 8 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center reporting a 185 mph storm moving west-northwest at 16 mph and nearing the British Virgin Islands.

The hurricane center is predicting Irma will make a Florida landfall between 96 and 120 hours – Sunday – as a Category 4 hurricane with 140 to 145 mph winds.

More of Florida – most of the peninsula – was in Hurricane Irma’s path this morning as of the 8 a.m., but models have shifted the storm east.

The official center of the track is now forecast to be over Lake Okeechobee early Monday morning with 120 mph winds. Hurricane force-winds currently extend out 50 miles from Irma’s center with tropical storm-force winds extending 175 miles.

Everything you need to know about Hurricane Irma, evacuation zones and shopping lists can be found on The Palm Beach Post’s special storm page here. 

It is still too early to say for sure whether this will be Irma’s final path. The models were more to the west on Tuesday, and it’s important to note that, on average, hurricanes stay in the forecast cone 66 percent of the time.

About 33 percent of the time they move out of the forecast cone.

South Florida water management spaghetti models as of 7:30 a.m. Sept. 6, 2017

If Irma stays on this route, South Florida should start feeling tropical storm-force winds late Friday into early Saturday. The hurricane center said all of South Florida should have its preparations complete Friday.

Related: Find your hurricane evacuation zone here. 

Forecasters noted this morning that the models have become more divergent after the three-day mark with the bulk of them showing the storm moving near or over the Florida’s east coast or the northwestern Bahamas.

But, do not count on this being similar to Hurricane Matthew, which skirted Palm Beach County in October with minimal impacts. It is too far out to know exactly where Irma will head.

Hurricane force-winds extend out 50 miles from Irma’s center. Tropical storm-force winds extend 175 miles.

Hurricane warnings have gone up in Cuba, Haiti, and several southeastern islands in the Bahamas, which has ordered an evacuation of those areas to Nassau.

 

Previous story: Hurricane Irma made landfall overnight on Barbuda in the northern Leeward Islands as a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane with 185 mph winds – the strongest tropical cyclone on record in the Atlantic.

It was not slowing down this morning with the 8 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center reporting a 185 mph storm moving west-northwest at 16 mph and nearing the British Virgin Islands.

The hurricane center is predicting Irma will make a Florida landfall between 96 and 120 hours – Sunday – as a Category 4 hurricane with 140 to 145 mph winds.

More of Florida – most of the peninsula – is in Hurricane Irma’s path this morning, but models have shifted the storm east.

The center of the track is now forecast to be over Lake Okeechobee early Monday morning with 120 mph winds.

 

Everything you need to know about Hurricane Irma, evacuation zones and shopping lists can be found on The Palm Beach Post’s special storm page here. 

It is still too early to say for sure whether this will be Irma’s final path. The models were more to the west on Tuesday, and it’s important to note that, on average, hurricanes stay in the forecast cone 66 percent of the time.

About 33 percent of the time they move out of the forecast cone.

If Irma stays on this route, South Florida should start feeling tropical storm-force winds late Friday into early Saturday. The hurricane center said all of South Florida should have its preparations complete Friday.

Related: Find your hurricane evacuation zone here. 

Forecasters noted this morning that the models have become more divergent after the three-day mark with the bulk of them showing the storm moving near or over the Florida’s east coast or the northwestern Bahamas.

But, do not count on this being similar to Hurricane Matthew, which skirted Palm Beach County in October with minimal impacts. It is too far out to know exactly where Irma will head.

Hurricane force-winds extend out 50 miles from Irma’s center. Tropical storm-force winds extend 175 miles.

Hurricane warnings have gone up in Cuba, Haiti, and several southeastern islands in the Bahamas, which has ordered an evacuation of those areas to Nassau.

4:30 a.m. models from the South Florida Water Management District.

Watches or warnings are possible in Florida today. A watch means you have 48 hours before destructive winds arrive, a warning typically means 36 hours.

At 2 a.m., Irma’s eye passed over the tiny island of Barbuda, moving west-northwest at 15 mph.

Storm surge of  up to 20 feet was expected on some of the northern Leeward Islands.

Hurricane Irma satellite image 4:30 a.m., Sept. 6, 2017.

This is a live webcam from St. Barth, Flamant Beach.

Jonathan Erdman, a senior forecaster for Weather.com, said Tuesday the path Irma takes depends on when it makes a right turn around the western edge of the Bermuda High.

“When that right-hand turn occurs is almost impossible to answer today,” Erdman said. “That’s the linchpin of the forecast that could mean a glancing blow to Florida or have it race right up the Peninsula with wind damage not just at the coast but places inland such Orlando.”

A storm that bisects Florida would put east coast metro areas in the most dangerous right front quadrant of the storm.

“Take this storm seriously,” said Bob Henson, a meteorologist and blogger for Weather Underground. “It’s already stronger than intensity models thought it might be.”

Irma approaches Puerto Rico in this satellite image from 4:30 a.m. Sept. 6, 2017

The next update from the hurricane center will be at 8 a.m.

 

UPDATE: Hurricane watch for several Leeward Islands as Irma moves westward

UPDATE, 11 p.m.: Hurricane Irma remains a category 3 storm with top sustained winds of 115 mph, NOAA’s National Hurricane Center says. It’s currently about 710 miles from the Leeward Islands, where hurricane watches are in effect. Irma is expected to reach the islands Tuesday night.

Irma is moving to the west-southwest at 14 mph, but officials say it’s too early to say where Irma will be at the end of the week.

Hurricane Irma, as of 11 p.m. Sunday

 

UPDATE, 8 p.m.: After a NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft reached the storm this evening, the National Hurricane Center said in its 8 p.m. advisory that Hurricane Irma is expected to be near the northern Leeward Islands by late Tuesday.

Irma, which has maximum sustained winds of 115 mph, is about 2,025 miles southeast of West Palm Beach and moving west at 14 mph. Forecasters say the storm’s hurricane-force winds extend about 35 miles from the center, with tropical-storm-force winds out to about 140 miles.

The storm is forecast to strengthen some in the next 48 hours, though NHC specialists say it’s too early to say what, if any, impacts will affect the Bahamas, Florida or any other part of the U.S. mainland.

UPDATE, 5 p.m.: Many of the Leeward Islands have issued a hurricane watch in anticipation of Hurricane Irma, which is expected to arrive late Tuesday.

Among those who’ve issued watches are: Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saba, St. Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy.

According to the National Hurricane Center, other islands among the Leewards, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico should all monitor Irma.

In addition, a NOAA hurricane hunter aircraft is heading to investigate Irma, the National Hurricane Center reported.

Irma continues to be a Category 3 hurricane with top sustained winds of 115 mph. It is currently about 790 miles west of the Leeward Islands and moving west at 14 mph.

UPDATE, 11 a.m.: Hurricane Irma, still a Category 3, continued to head west-southwest toward the Leeward Islands, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The storm continues to have maximum sustained winds of 115 mph, and is moving at 14 mph.

The hurricane center reported that hurricane and tropical storm watches “will likely be required for portions” of the Leeward Islands later today or tonight.

According to a hurricane center briefing, Irma is expected to be near the Bahamas by late this week, but added that the uncertainty of the track for the southeastern U.S. is moderate to high. It’s still too early to determine track and wind speed for South Florida at this time, according to meteorologist James Thomas.

Nonetheless, the center adds it’s good to be prepared, and review hurricane action plans now and to start making necessary precautions.

The next update is scheduled for 5 p.m.

ORIGINAL STORY: Now less than 1,000 miles east of the Leeward Islands, Hurricane Irma’s strength continues to rise and fall, and as of 5 a.m. today is a Category 3 storm, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Maximum sustained winds were up to 115 miles per hour and the storm was heading west-southwest near 15 mph. The hurricane center expects Irma to strengthen on Monday night, and the storm may also shift its path to a more westerly direction.

At this time, no warnings or watches are in effect, but the hurricane center is suggesting the Leeward Islands monitor Irma’s progress.

The next update is set for 11 a.m.

UPDATE: Hurricane Irma strengthens, heads west across Atlantic

11 p.m. UPDATE: Hurricane Irma continues to head west with 110 mph winds. The National Hurricane Center places the storm about 1,030 miles east of the Leeward Islands.

5 p.m. UPDATE: Hurricane Irma steamed stubbornly westward as a strong Category 2 hurricane Wednesday about 1,135 miles east of the Leeward Islands, leaving many in Florida trying to enjoy a holiday weekend while taking nervous glances at the elephant on the forecast map.

“At this point we’re telling people enjoy your Labor Day Weekend,” said Andrew Hagen, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami.  “But at some point, parts of the East Coast are going to need to monitor it closely.”

As of 5 p.m. Saturday, top winds were near 110 mph as it moved west at 15 mph.

Its is still expected to strengthen to a Category 3 or 4 storm by Wednesday with its projected track bending north, forecasters said.

A big question is what lies beyond its five-day cone — a gradual sweeping right turn into the Atlantic Ocean or an uncomfortable route toward the U.S. coastline.

“It’s too early to know,” Hagen said.

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Continue reading “UPDATE: Hurricane Irma strengthens, heads west across Atlantic”

Irma remains a Category 3 hurricane, expected to strengthen

Update, 11 p.m.: Irma remains a Category 3 hurricane with top sustained winds of 115 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

In its 11 p.m. advisory, forecasters said the storm was moving west at 14 mph and hurricane-force winds extended out about 25 miles from the center. The official forecast path was nudged northward slightly, but the overall reasoning hadn’t changed.

Update 5 p.m.: Irma has restrengthened to a powerful Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds.

The National Hurricane Center said the storm is heading west at 13 mph and is asking people in the Leeward Islands to begin monitoring the system.

Irma is forecast to be a Category 4 hurricane with 130-mph winds as it approaches the Leeward Islands on Tuesday.

Irma’s wind speeds could fluctuate over the next several days as it moves into an area of warmer water, but with higher wind shear that will work against it strengthening.

The official forecast shows no increase in intensity, but forecasters noted this could be “conservative.”

Image of Irma from the new GOES-16 satellite.

Dan Kottlowski, a hurricane expert with the Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather, said it’s too early to know if the U.S. coastline will be affected by Irma. A clearer picture should emerge Monday or Tuesday.

“It may be a fish storm, but there is no way to tell right now,” Kottlowski said, referring to the nickname given tropical cyclones that head out to sea with no impact to land. “People don’t need to panic and I don’t think it’s worth them worrying about it over Labor Day weekend.”

Still, Palm Beach County emergency managers urged that regardless of Irma’s ultimate destination, the long weekend is a good time to review hurricane plans and take inventory of supplies.

Infrared image of Hurricane Irma Sept. 1, 2017

It’s recommended that people have a three-day supply of food and water. After watching rescues continue in Texas on Friday – nearly a week after Hurricane Harvey’s landfall – an additional few days of supplies can’t hurt, said Mary Blakeney, senior manager with the county’s Division of Emergency Management.

“We advertise three to five days for general preparedness, but it’s not a bad thing to have a seven-day supply,” Blakeney said. “We really need people over this holiday weekend to take some time to pay attention to the local media and just be vigilant so there’s no surprise.”

(Taylor Jones/The Palm Beach Post). LANTANA.

The hurricane center is also tracking a tropical wave over the eastern Atlantic that has a 60 percent chance of development over the next five days.

The wave is moving west at 15 mph and heading into warmer waters with lower winds shear. Forecasters said it could become a tropical depression early next week.

Update 11 a.m.:   Hurricane Irma weakened somewhat this morning as it underwent an eyewall replacement cycle, but the compact storm is expected to restrengthen as it moves west-northwest at 13 mph.

The National Hurricane Center set the wind speed at 110 mph at its 11 a.m. advisory, which is a Category 2 storm. Irma is about 1,580 miles east of the Leeward Islands.

Irma is forecast to make a slight turn to the north-northwest on Tuesday, putting it at the doorstep of the Leeward Islands, but it’s path after that is still uncertain.

While the Bermuda High is still a major component in steering Irma, an upper-level low is forecast to drop south on the east side of that high and should be a key feature in how far south Irma goes before making a right turn, forecasters said.

The NHC now has Irma maxing out at the end of five days as a Category 3 storm with 125 mph winds, but it’s still possible it could intensify over the very warm waters of the Tropical Atlantic. The reduction in winds speeds was made because of an uptick in damaging wind shear in front of Irma.

“There is the potential for Irma to ramp up to an even more powerful hurricane this weekend,” according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.

Irma undergoes an eyewall replacement cycle.

Eyewall replacement cycles happen when outer rain bands strengthen, move inward and draw moisture from the inner eyewall. The cycle can temporarily weaken the cyclones.

Forecasters noted that this could happen several times with Irma and that the process is nearly impossible to predict.

Hurricane Irma

Irma will take about a week to make its trek westward across the Atlantic Ocean. Meteorologists will likely be tracking this storm through the middle of September, according to AccuWeather.

“All interests in the eastern Caribbean will need to monitor the progress of this evolving and dangerous hurricane,” Kottlowski said.

Previous story: Major Hurricane Irma, which maintained Category 3 strength this morning with 115 mph winds, continued its trek west-southwest, but its long-term destination remains unclear.

The National Hurricane Center, which is also watching a new disturbance off the coast of Africa, said Irma is traveling south of the Bermuda High which should cause it to turn on a more west-northwest track on Tuesday, putting it closer to the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico.

But, forecasters stressed the models differ on where Irma will go and that it’s too early to say what, if any, impact it will have on the U.S. coast.

Related: The Palm Beach Post hurricane page has shopping lists, evacuation maps and more.

As of the 5 a.m. advisory, Irma was about 840 miles west-northwest of the Cabo Verde Islands with a minimum central pressure of 967 mb.

Just 24 hours ago, Irma was a tropical storm. Forecasters called its rapid intensification from a storm to a Cat 2 and then Cat 3 hurricane in less than a day “impressive.”

Still, Irma is a compact storm at this point, with hurricane-force winds extending out just 15 miles.

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As of the 8 a.m. advisory, the hurricane center was giving a tropical wave over the far eastern Atlantic Ocean a 50 percent chance of tropical development. Forecasters said the system could become a tropical depression next week as it moves west at 15 mph over warm waters with low wind shear.

Weather Underground co-founder Jeff Masters notes that Irma’s arrival is about three weeks ahead of schedule for the normal fourth-named hurricane of the season.

“Irma appears destined to become a dangerous long-track major hurricane that could potentially impact the islands of the Caribbean as well as the mainland U.S. next week and the following week,” Masters wrote in his Category 6 blog.

Category 3 Hurricane Irma as seen on visible satellite image Sept. 1, 2017

With sea-surface temperatures at more than 1 degree above normal in the tropical Atlantic and light wind shear, the hurricane center has Irma reaching Cat 4 strength with 140 mph winds. Some forecasters even put it at a Cat 5.

“Irma is more than a week away from any possible U.S. impacts,” Masters said. “Bear in mind that, on average, long-range hurricane forecasts beyond 7 days have very little skill when it comes to specific locations and intensities, and much could change in the coming days.”

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