Hurricane Irma was downgraded to a Category 3 storm Saturday, as its eye inched closer to South Florida.
More than 195,000 homes and businesses are already without power, according to Florida Power & Light Company. The company expects that number to climb into the millions.
The storm has killed at least 20 people since roaring out of the open Atlantic and chewing through a string of Caribbean islands. Governors of four Southeast states have declared states of emergency ahead Irma's arrival on the U.S mainland.
Here is what we know:
Where is Hurricane Irma now?
As of 11 p.m. ET Saturday, the center of Irma was located 90 miles southeast of Key West and was moving to the northwest at 6 mph. The storm has sustained winds near 120 mph and is still expected to strengthen as it comes closer to the Florida Keys overnight.
When will Irma hit Florida?
The storm is forecast to hit the Keys early Sunday and to move along the southwest Florida coast in the afternoon.
The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning for both coasts of the peninsula up through central parts of the state.
Where will Irma hit Florida?
The worst of Hurricane Irma is now forecast along the west coast of Florida after its track shifted overnight. Irma will act like a giant buzzsaw as it plows up the state's west coast into Monday, battering cities such as Key West, Naples, Fort Myers, Sarasota, and the Tampa-St. Pete area with hurricane-force winds, torrential rain, and devastating storm-surge inundation. “This will be the worst single hurricane to hit Florida since Hurricane Andrew in 1992,” said meteorologist Joel N. Myers, head of AccuWeather.
When was the last time a hurricane hit Tampa?
The most recent major (Category 3 or above) hurricane to directly hit the Tampa Bay area was on Oct. 25, 1921. That storm came ashore in Tarpon Springs, Fla., just north of the Tampa area, with winds estimated at 120 mph. A storm surge estimated at 11 feet flooded much of the city. Six people were killed in the Tampa-St.Petersburg area, and damage was estimated at $2 million (in 1921 dollars.) A similar impact today would be a far different story, as the metro area’s population has soared in the past 100 years, from around 50,000 in 1920 to 3 million people. The 1921 hurricane was the most destructive hurricane to hit the Tampa area since 1848, the weather service said.
How strong will Irma be at landfall?
If the storm hits at Category 4 strength, as predicted, the ferocious 130 mph winds in Irma's eye wall will produce "catastrophic damage." Locations where a Category 4 eye wall hits will see "power outages that will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months," the hurricane center said.
How bad will storm surge be?
Storm surge, the wall of sea water that roars ashore as a hurricane makes landfall, inundating coastal areas, will be "dangerous" and "life-threatening" for people who didn't evacuate. Some areas could see up to 15 feet of sea water pushed ashore from Irma, the hurricane center said. Storm-surge warnings have been hoisted all the way from the Keys to north of Tampa.
What about rain, wind and tornadoes?
Irma will bring all these into play as well as it delivers a savage blow to nearly the entire state of Florida. Fierce winds could also rip some buildings to shreds across the state. Wind gusts approaching 160 mph are possible in some areas. While colossal flooding seen during Harvey may not be the primary threat from Irma, some parts of Florida could see as much as 20 inches of rain. In addition, a few brief tornadoes are possible across portions of the Florida Peninsula and coastal Georgia and South Carolina Sunday as Hurricane Irma impacts the region.
How many people are evacuating?
In one of the biggest evacuations ever ordered in the U.S., about 6.3 million people in Florida — more than one-quarter of the state’s population — have now been told to clear out from threatened areas and another 540,000 were directed to move away from the Georgia coast. In Florida, 54,000 people had already taken refuge in the more than 320 shelters located in every county outside the highly vulnerable Keys.
How many people could lose power?
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said about 76,000 people had already lost power Saturday evening in Florida as dangerous winds began lashing southern parts of the state. Florida Power & Light officials said as many as 9 million customers could lose power as Hurricane Irma roars ashore. The company provides electricity to 10 million people across nearly half the state.
How many flights have been canceled?
Hurricane Irma’s impact on U.S. flights continued to grow Saturday as the monster storm tracked toward Florida. Since Friday, More than 5,000 flights to or from Florida have now been canceled through Monday because of Irma. At least 10 airports in Florida had suspended flights or announced their intention to do so by Saturday evening. At several others, flights were not technically suspended, though most carriers were winding down their schedules ahead of Irma. Airports in Florida’s Panhandle were less affected as of early Saturday.
What about Hurricane Jose?
Already battered and reeling from Hurricane Irma, isolated Caribbean islands lacking infrastructure, communications, medical supplies and other essentials prepared to weather another potent hurricane Saturday as Jose bore down on the region. Jose was headed toward the northern Leeward Islands, which include Antigua and Barbuda, St. Martin and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, with sustained winds of 150 mph — a Category 4 storm. Irma already left a trail of flooded streets, toppled buildings, uprooted trees, upside-down boats and cars, and residents and visitors scrambling to secure shelter, food and clean water. Many people were looking for ways off the islands.
How could Irma impact Florida's economy?
Hurricane Irma is expected to pose at least a temporary setback to Florida's sizzling economy as it takes aim at the heart of the nation’s citrus production and batters its robust tourism industry. But if the storm causes extensive damage that discourages incoming retirees and tempers runaway population growth, the economic effects could be more substantial, analysts say.
Will Irma harm Florida's citrus crops?
Florida is the nation’s top citrus producer and also leads in sugarcane, tomatoes, watermelons and fresh market cucumbers, according to state government data. Farmers are trying to drain fields of excess water, secure equipment and ensure water pumps work in the event of flooding, says Lisa Lochridge, spokeswoman for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association. The most immediate worry is the vast orange crop in central and south Florida. Risks to the crop have increased since forecasts altered the storm’s projected path westward, says Chris Hyde, agricultural meteorologist at MDA Weather Services.
How will Irma impact other states?
Florida will take the brunt of the storm but states from Georgia to Indiana will experience Irma's effects in the days ahead. After Florida, Georgia is forecast to suffer the most. Irma may still be a hurricane when it crosses the border early Monday. Tropical storm-force winds of up to 60 mph are possible across the state into early Tuesday morning. Rainfall amounts of up to 20 inches could lead to flash flooding, especially in southern parts of Georgia. Along the coast, storm surge of up to 4 to 6 feet could swamp cities such as Savannah on Monday. Other states will experience heavy rain, tropical-storm force winds, rip currents, and other weather that could cause some flooding, downed trees and power outages.
Contributing: Doyle Rice, Bart Jansen, Alan Gomez, Gregory Korte, Caryn Shaffer, Joseph Bauccum and The Associated Press
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