South Florida began to feel the outer bands of Irma early Saturday.
After battering Cuba on Friday and leaving more than 20 dead across the Caribbean, Hurricane Irma is taking aim at Florida. Winds have kicked up along the coast and even the western suburbs were feeling blustery conditions.
The enormous storm lost some power and became a Category 4 again early Saturday. And the forecast for Hurricane Irma’s potential path continued to shift westward, moving away from predicting a direct hit on the heavily populated Miami area. South Florida may look slightly out of the cone, but the storm’s width makes it likely that the region will be hit with torrential rainfall, destructive winds and serious storm surge.
“This hurricane is a beast,” said CBS4 meteorologist Lissette Gonzalez.
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At 5 a.m. Saturday, the storm was about 245 miles southeast off the coast of Miami, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph. It was moving west at 12 mph, and expected to turn toward the northwest later in the day.
A hurricane warning and the storm surge warning were extended northward along the Florida West Coast from Anclote River to Chassahowitzka. A warning also was extended northward along the Florida East Coast to the Flagler-Volusia County Line. A tropical storm watch has been issued north of Fernandina Beach to Altamaha Sound, Georgia.
Forecasters expect the storm to be near the Florida Keys early Sunday morning and approach the state’s southwest coast by that afternoon. Hurricane wind conditions are expected in portions of South and Central Florida and the Florida Keys as early as Saturday night. Outer bands have already started to affect the southern region.
There is still plenty of time for a wobble or shift in course and tracks can have an 80- to 90-mile margin of error two days out, National Hurricane Center forecaster Mike Brennan said. So the southeast coast remains very much in play for serious damage.
And with a storm so large, it’s unlikely that anywhere in South Florida will dodge Irma’s fury. The National Weather Service continues to rank risks from wind and storm surge over the coming days as extreme.
“We still could have 100-plus mile per hour gusts over the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and even Palm Beach metro areas,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Scharfenberg. “We’re not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination.”
All of South Florida remains under a hurricane warning, with evacuation orders for parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties that include 680,000 people in Miami-Dade. All residents and visitors have been ordered out of the Keys.
Gov. Rick Scott has ordered seven cities evacuated just south of Lake Okeechobee over concerns that the lake’s 1930s-era dike might fail. Evacuations also spread across 15 other counties, including parts of Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Collier and Pinellas counties.
The South Florida coast and Keys are also under a storm surge warning, with surge levels projected to reach between five and 10 feet on the east coast and eight to 12 feet from Cape Sable to Captiva. Forecasters warned that the Naples area could see a significant surge as Irma pushes water across the Gulf’s continental shelf.
The risk for flood-prone Tampa Bay is profound and the area is under a storm surge warning.
This report was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.