Category 5 Hurricane Irma is currently barreling through the Atlantic Ocean and is now considered the strongest recorded storm in the Atlantic basin outside of the Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico, the Weather Channel reported Tuesday night.
“I am at a complete and utter loss for words looking at Irma’s appearance on satellite imagery,” National Hurricane Center Storm Surge Unit senior scientist Taylor Trogdon tweeted.
The storm is currently closing in on the island of Barbuda and has reached at least 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour) wind strength, per the Weather Channel. It was currently less than 80 miles (128 km) from the Leeward Islands as of around 10:15pm ET, and continuing to move west at approximately 10 to 15 mph (16 to 24 km/h).
“The only hurricane anywhere in the Atlantic ever known to have stronger winds was Allen (1980), at 190 mph” (305 km/h), Weather Underground wrote.
According to Weather Underground, its trajectory is set to take it “near or just between Antigua and Barbuda during the predawn hours Wednesday”; it will subsequently pass St. Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla, St. Barthelemy and the British Virgin Islands. Later, it will “rake Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba,” the Guardian wrote, before it could possibly curve north and strike parts of southern Florida this weekend.
The National Hurricane Center issued a dire warning on Tuesday night, writing the storm could be “potentially catastrophic.” Storm surge is expected to be terrifying throughout much of Irma’s path, the NHC showed, with some regions expected to receive surges of up to 10 to 20 feet (3-6 meters):
“Anguilla, all the way toward [Antigua and] Barbuda, all the way up even toward the British Virgin Islands [are] in grave danger of an eye wall hit at [at least] 150 mph,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said. “That devastates the island, no matter what island it is.”
Per CNN, Irma has sent residents in the path of the storm from the Caribbean to Florida scurrying to move boats to land, reinforce residences and scour stores for supplies. A state of emergency was declared in Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, while Florida Gov. Rick Scott said 7,000 National Guard troops had been ordered to deploy by Friday.
“I cannot stress this enough,” Scott said. “Get prepared. Learn your evacuation zone. Listen to your locals. This storm has the potential to devastate this state. You have to take this seriously.”
Irma is the second devastating hurricane in the Atlantic in just a few weeks. In August, Hurricane Harvey slammed into southeast Texas, killing at least 50 people, displacing an estimated million other and damaging at least 200,000 homes in a rampage which may reach $180 billion in damage.
As the Weather Channel noted, climate change could result in hurricanes which stress the boundaries of the Category 5 rating by the end of the century, with the worst-case scenario for the Tampa Bay area featuring “maximum sustained winds of 233 mph with a minimum central pressure of 830 millibars, traveling parallel along Florida’s Gulf Coast, producing a devastating 36-foot storm surge.”
Update 1:17am ET: Per the New York Times, winds from Irma have already began to pummel Antigua and Barbuda early on Wednesday morning. Authorities cut off power, “forcing residents to listen to the latest forecasts on transistor radios in the darkness,” and locals crammed into nearly 40 shelters on Antigua under fear their homes would blow down.
According to the Weather Channel, Irma’s eyewall—the massive vortex which surrounds the calm eye of a hurricane—has slammed into Barbuda, with “sustained winds of 93 knots or 107 mph” (172 km/h). Gusts are reaching 131 mph (210 km/h).