Category 4 Hurricane Irma a Growing Threat for U.S.; Hurricane Warnings Issued for Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - The center of Irma is located just over 400 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. Additional strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours, and it's not out of the question that Irma could briefly reach Category 5 status during that time.

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 at times.

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, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. This includes Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts, Nevis, Saba, St. Eustatius, Sint Maarten, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, Vieques and Culebra.

Additionally, both a hurricane watch and a tropical storm warning have been issued for Guadeloupe, and a tropical storm watch is in effect for Dominica.

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