Hurricane Irma Strengthens to a Category 4; Hurricane Warnings Issued for Leeward Islands, Hurricane Watch Hoisted in Puerto Rico

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - The center of Irma is located less than 500 miles east of the Leeward Islands and is moving westward at about 13 mph.

Irma has strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane, and satellite imagery shows that it has become better organized in the past day with an eye now clearly evident.

Low wind shear, increased mid-level moisture and ample oceanic heat content favor that Irma will remain a major hurricane (Category 3 or stronger) for the next several days, though some intensity fluctuations are likely.

One potential inhibitor of Irma maintaining its intensity would be if the hurricane's core interacts with land as it cruises westward near the Greater Antilles later this week.

Hurricane warnings have been issued for portions of the Leeward Islands. This includes Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts, Nevis, Saba, St. Eustatius, Sint Maarten, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy.

A hurricane watch is in effect for Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra, the Virgin Islands and Guadeloupe.

In addition, a tropical storm warning has been issued for Guadeloupe, and a tropical storm watch is in effect for Dominica.

For the next five days, Irma will move west, then west-northwest on the south side of a ridge of high pressure called the Bermuda high, centered in the central Atlantic.

By next weekend, Irma will begin to turn north in the direction of a departing southward dip in the jet stream that will set up in the eastern United States. Where that northward turn occurs will be critical for what impacts Irma may bring to parts of the southeastern United States.

Here's a general overview of the timing for impacts from Irma into next weekend.

Potential Impact Timing

  • Leeward Islands: Late Tuesday-Wednesday
  • Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands: Wednesday-Thursday
  • Dominican Republic/Haiti: Thursday-Friday
  • Turks and Caicos: Thursday-Friday
  • Bahamas: Friday-next weekend
  • Cuba: Friday-next weekend
  • Southeast United States: Next weekend into early the following week (possibly as early as Friday in south Florida)
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