Barely a week after Hurricane Harvey devastated large swaths of the US Gulf coast, Americans on the East Coast on Sunday were warily watching the progress of another major storm, Hurricane Irma.
For now, those fears are mostly speculative, as the Category 3 storm remains far out in the Atlantic. Its track is, as the Weather Channel described it, “still uncertain and difficult.”
Irma will blast the northern Caribbean with flooding rain, damaging winds and rough surf this week, bringing life-threatening conditions to the islands.
A similar scenario could play out somewhere along the Gulf or East coasts this weekend or next week, depending on where Irma tracks. Residents are urged to prepare now.
Accuweather reports that Major Hurricane Irma will skirt across the northern Caribbean islands with flooding rain, damaging winds and dangerous seas before eyeing the East Coast of the United States this week.
“Irma is a serious threat for the Caribbean islands and United States,” AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok said.
Irma, currently a Category 3 hurricane, poses an imminent risk to the northernmost Leeward Islands. Preparations for the storm should already be taking place in these areas.
“Rain and gusty winds may start as early as Tuesday,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Rob Miller said.
Irma has been fluctuating in intensity over the past few days, but is expected to strengthen to a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 130-156 mph (209-251 km/h) on its closest approach to the islands.
The storm will turn to the north and west over the coming days. This track will put Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands, in the brunt of the storm’s rain and wind spanning Tuesday and Wednesday.
Power outages and damage to trees and structures are possible, even if the center of Irma misses the islands to the north.
Rainfall could be heavy enough to trigger flash flooding, mudslides and road washouts.
“Severe effects from the storm may be limited to a radius 50 miles (80 km) of the center, while the storm moves through the tropics,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.
Rough surf will spread outward from the storm, leading to dangerous swimming and boating conditions along the east-facing beaches of the Lesser Antilles. Small craft should head to port and remain there until Irma has passed.
Cruise and shipping interests in the projected path of Irma should make plans to reroute.
During the middle and latter half of the week, Irma will move close to Puerto Rico and Hispaniola with the worst of the storm expected to miss the islands to the north. Even so, rough surf, gusty winds and downpours will increase.
There is an increasing concern that the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas will face very dangerous conditions at the end of the week and into the weekend as Irma tracks nearby or possibly through the islands. Impacts will be severe if Irma maintains its strength and passes over the islands.
Will Irma impact the U.S. East Coast?
The exact path of Irma beyond the end of the week remains uncertain and will depend on a variety of factors.
A landfall in Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and even toward the Delmarva Peninsula is all in the realm of possibilities. The potential remains for the storm to curve northward and miss the East Coast entirely.
“The eastward or northeast progression of a non-tropical system pushing across the central and eastern U.S. this week will highly impact the long-range movement of Irma,” AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski said.
How fast or slow this non-tropical system moves will determine whether Irma takes a west-northwest path toward the southern Atlantic Seaboard or gets steered more to the north and away from land.
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“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,” Evan Myers, Expert Senior Meteorologist and Chief Operating Officer said.
Any potential impacts along the East Coast would not occur until next weekend and the second week of September.
“The U.S. has not sustained a direct hit from two Category 4 or above hurricanes in more than 100 years,” Myers said.
Given the uncertainty that remains, all interests from the Bahamas to Florida, the Carolinas, southern New England and Bermuda should closely monitor the forecast path of Irma this week and review emergency and evacuation procedures in case they need to be implemented.
“As we saw just 10 days ago with Harvey, it is important to be ready to evacuate and be prepared with at a minimum, a list of items you would take if you had 30 minute notice or 1 hours notice of 6 hours or a day to evacuate,” Myers said.
Another tropical threat brewing
Behind Irma, a disorganized area of showers and thunderstorms located hundreds of miles southwest of the Cabo Verde Islands will need to be monitored for potential development.
This system will move into a favorable environment for organizing and gaining strength as it moves to the west-northwest toward the Lesser Antilles during the middle and latter part of this week.
The next storm in the Atlantic Basin has the name Jose.