Hurricane Irma Passing Through the Leeward Islands as a Potentially Catastrophic Category 5 Hurricane; Dangerous Threat for Florida, Southeast

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - Hurricane Irma, a dangerous Category 5 hurricane, has blasted the island of Barbuda, an island of 1600 residents, with gusts of at least 155 mph. Irma will soon rake through St. Martin, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Hispañola, the Bahamas and Cuba before posing a serious threat to Florida and parts of the Southeast beginning this weekend.

 Irma's maximum sustained winds are steady at 185 mph based on data from NOAA and Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft. Based on wind speed, Irma is the strongest Atlantic hurricane since Wilma in 2005 which also had maximum sustained winds of 185 mph.

Hurricane warnings have been issued for the northern Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and for the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. This includes Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts, Nevis, Saba, St. Eustatius, Sint Maarten, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, Guadeloupe, Vieques and Culebra.

Additionally, a tropical storm warning is in effect for Dominica and for the southern coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano westward to the border with Haiti.

A hurricane watch is also in effect for the north coast Haiti from the border with the Dominican Republic to Le Mole St. Nicholas, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas. A hurricane watch has also been issued for Cuba from Matanzas Province eastward to Guantanamo Province.

Low wind shear, increased mid-level moisture and ample oceanic-heat content favor that Irma will remain a powerful hurricane (Category 4 or stronger) for the next several days, though some intensity fluctuations are likely at times. At this intensity, small deviations in wind speed will not change impacts. A direct hit will be catastrophic. 

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

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