UPDATE, 11 p.m.: As of the 11 p.m. Monday advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Irma was a 140-mph Category 4 hurricane 410 miles east of the Leeward Islands.
But, more important for South Florida, the official 5-day forecast for Irma has Palm Beach County inside the target area for where the storm’s center may eventually go.
As of 11 p.m., the chance for tropical-storm-force winds in West Palm Beach through 8 p.m. Saturday was 40 percent, and the chance for hurricane-force winds was 7 percent.
The official forecast is for it to strengthen to 150 mph – still a Cat 4 – as it reaches the islands late tonight or early Wednesday. Irma could fluctuate in strength during the next several days depending on how much land it touches on its westward journey.
Update, 8 p.m.: Irma’s top sustained winds have increased to 140 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Gov. Scott declares state of emergency as state prepares for potentially powerful storm
Update 5:15 p.m.: Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency to prepare for Hurricane Irma.
The state of emergency covers all 67 counties to ensure that “local governments have ample time, resources and flexibility to get prepared for this dangerous storm.”
Update 5 p.m.: Hurricane Irma has strengthened to a Category 4 storm with 130 mph winds, according to the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center.
The storm is now expected to top out with 150 mph winds over the next 24 hours, which would keep it at the high end of a Category 4 hurricane.
Forecasters said Irma remains “an impressive hurricane in satellite imagery.”
The five-day storm track has shifted the hurricane to the west and now has parts of South Florida in the cone of concern.
While there is a large margin of error beyond five days out, forecasters still urged preparation today with the possibility of tropical storm force winds beginning in South Florida later this week.
As of the 5 p.m. advisory, Irma was 490 miles east of the Leeward Islands and moving west at 13 mph.
Storm surge of between 1 to 6 feet is expected in the Leeward Islands with between 3 to 6 inches of rain and isolated amounts of up to 10 inches possible.
Update 2 p.m.: Hurricane Irma remains a major Category 3 storm with 120 mph winds as it treks west-southwest at 14 mph.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center are urging South Floridians to prepare for the storm and consider getting shutters or plywood up by Friday.
The center is giving South Florida between a 5 and 30 percent chance of feeling tropical storm-force winds during the day Friday.
“Everyone should understand there is a good chance that we will see the onset of tropical storm-force winds on Friday, and I want to convey that you should make sure your hurricane plan and all prep are done by Friday,” said Dave Roberts, a hurricane specialist at the NHC. “That’s what I’m doing because you don’t want to be putting your shutters on in deteriorating conditions.”
In response to Irma’s project path and strength, the Palm Beach County Emergency Operations Center has moved its alert level from a level 4 – normal – to a level 3, which is enhanced monitoring.
Monroe County activated its incident Command Team in response to Irma’s approach.
Irma could reach a Category 4 storm with 145 mph winds within 48 hours.
As of 2 p.m., Irma was 530 miles east of the Leeward Islands. A hurricane warning was in effect for Antiqua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts, Nevis, Saba, St. Eustatius, and Saint Maartin.
A hurricane watch is in effect for British Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Vieques and Culebra.
While forecasts further than five days out have large margins of error, hurricane experts said there is an increasing chance of seeing some impacts from Irma in Florida.
Depending on when Irma makes a right turn toward the north, it could be a Hurricane Matthew-like storm that skims the east coast of the state, or if it moves further west, it could move through the center of the state, forcing evacuations from the Keys this week.
Dan Kottlowski, a hurricane expert with the Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather, said an upper-level low pressure system will be the trigger that pushes Irma to make the move north early or later.
“The latest model trends have had it tracking toward the southern part of the peninsula on Sunday,” Kottlowski said. “I would say this much, people in Florida should certainly have their hurricane plan in place, and that includes knowing whether you are in an evacuation zone and, if so, where you will go.”
Update 11 a.m.: Hurricane Irma is expected to strengthen to a category 4 storm in the next 24 hours and maintain that power for the next five days, the National Hurricane Center said at its late morning update.
That curve that would turn Irma north and out to sea before striking Florida remains absent from the National Hurricane Center’s 11 a.m. update.
Instead the forecast path has flattened even further since the center’s 8 a.m. update, taking the storm closer to Cuba’s north shore by Saturday morning, but that cone of possibility is wide.
The forecasters continue to expect Irma to turn north likely Tuesday, but it is too soon to tell if, when and where the storm will make landfall in the continental U.S.
Not only is a high pressure system in the Atlantic in play, but so too is a weather trough over the eastern U.S. How and when they move will influence Irma’s path.
For now, Hurricane Irma is a category 3 storm that is churning about 560 miles east of the Leeward Islands with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph. It is moving west-southwest at 14 mph.
In more immediate danger are the islands in Irma’s path.
“Irma could directly affect the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as a dangerous major hurricane later this week. Hurricane watches have been issued for these areas, and tropical-storm-force winds could arrive in these areas by early Wednesday,” according to the forecast discussion.
Original post: That curve to the north – and eventually out into the Atlantic – that everyone in South Florida was hoping to see Hurricane Irma take isn’t happening as quickly as earlier models had predicted. The National Hurricane Center’s 8 a.m. update Monday drives the storm’s path in a flatter, westbound path that puts it closer Cuba’s shores by early Saturday morning.
Hurricane Irma remains a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph as it spins about 610 miles east of the Leeward Islands. It is moving west southwest at 14 mph.
Forecasters say the high pressure system over the central Atlantic is what is making it increasingly likely that Irma will stay on this flatter west-northwest path three to five days from now, keeping the storm from turning north earlier.
The hurricane center is due to issue an update on Irma’s intensity in the next few hours, but the storm is expected to maintain intensity over the next five days, if not strengthen.