Hurricane Irma Pushes Toward Puerto Rico, With Florida In Its Sights
Hurricane Irma, the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic outside of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, is bearing down on the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The storm maintained its 185-mph winds after making its first landfall on Barbuda early Wednesday.
Rain from Irma began hitting parts of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico early Wednesday, the National Weather Service office in San Juan reports.
The eye of the hurricane passed over two islands, hitting Barbuda around 1:47 a.m. and moving over Saint Martin hours later. On Barbuda, wind speeds of 118 — and a gust of 155 mph — were reported before the sensor failed. The island saw a storm surge of nearly 8 feet.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda said via Twitter, "the Lord has protected us and we have been spared the worst of Irma."
But Antigua's weather service cautions that the all-clear has still not been sounded — and won't come until 11 a.m., stating, "we are still within reach of storm force winds." Irma is projecting tropical-storm-force winds for 175 miles from its center.
With a tightly defined eye, high maximum winds and gusts of up to 195 knots — or 225 mph — Irma has left weather forecasters flabbergasted.
"I am at a complete and utter loss for words looking at Irma's appearance on satellite imagery," NHC scientist Taylor Trogdon said Tuesday night, reacting to images of the storm's tight and powerful spiral.
Irma is expected to remain a major hurricane for at least five days, including when it makes a predicted landfall on Florida and the U.S. mainland this weekend.