As of Friday afternoon, Hurricane Irma was located between Cuba and the Bahamas and was heading straight for southern Florida, with plenty of very warm ocean water to sustain it along the way. A hurricane warning now extends from the Jupiter Inlet north of Palm Beach around to Bonita Beach on the Gulf Coast north of Naples. This also includes the Florida Keys and Lake Okeechobee. Tropical storm force winds will already be hitting the Florida Keys in the small hours on Saturday and the eye is expected to make landfall first thing Sunday morning.
Hurricane Irma is monster packing sustained winds of 155 miles per hour with higher gusts. This makes it a strong category 4 storm, borderline category 5. In effect, Irma is a large tornado! Winds like this will completely destroy mobile and prefabricated homes and seriously damage other structures. All but the strongest trees will be uprooted and power lines snapped. 9 million Floridians could be left without power. Worse, the heavily populated Miami area will be on the northeastern side of the storm where the most devastating winds can be expected. Whether it’s a category 4 or 5 when it slams into Florida, Irma is going to be an incredibly dangerous and destructive storm. The monetary damage could reach an eye-watering $60 to $100 billion.
In addition to destructive winds, Irma will bring a lot of water. A storm surge of 6 to 12 feet will swamp coastal areas, possibly for miles inland. 10 to 15 inches of rain will cause widespread flooding.
Millions of Floridians are evacuating the danger zone, jamming highways and buying up all available gasoline. Anyone who hasn’t evacuated will be facing mortal peril on their own until after Irma blows through and rescuers can swing into action.
A spokesman for the National Hurricane Center said, “This is a large storm coming from the south. That’s the worst-case scenario because it takes in the entire Gold Coast population, and you have the greatest impact from storm surge from that direction.” The governor of Florida has called Irma “way bigger than Andrew.”