Hurricane Irma Strengthens Into a Category 3; Potential Threat to the Lesser Antilles

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - Hurricane Irma has strengthened into a Category 3 once again in the central Atlantic Ocean and could pose a threat to the Lesser Antilles this week. Any potential impacts from Irma in the U.S. remain uncertain, and East Coast residents should continue to monitor the hurricane's progress.

The center of Irma is located just over 900 miles east of the Leeward Islands and is moving just south of due west at about 15 mph.

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

Some intensity fluctuations are likely, but overall Irma is expected to gain strength and it could become a Category 4 hurricane in the days ahead.

The NOAA Hurricane Hunters will begin flying reconnaissance flights in Irma beginning on Sunday to gain more information on the hurricane's latest intensity and size. 

The trend in computer models that predict the future track of hurricanes is a subtle southward trend, or toward the Leeward Islands. 

It is looking like direct impacts to the Lesser Antilles are more likely to be in the northern Leewards from Guadeloupe northward, but this may change in the coming days. 

For now, residents of the Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Bahamas should follow the progress of Irma closely.

A direct Irma impact is not a foregone conclusion, but chances of impacts in the islands are increasing. The possibilities range from a direct raking of many of the Leeward Islands to the hurricane passing far enough north to only deliver periphery impacts such as high surf, gusty winds and rainbands.

Lesser Antilles Concern

Irma is expected to reach the longitude of the Lesser Antilles (eastern Caribbean) late Tuesday or early Wednesday and Irma could be a formidably intense hurricane at that time.

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