Hurricane Irma is still a major storm even after weakening caused by interaction with Cuba. As it drifts back over the favorable ocean waters and moves into the Florida Straights there will likely be more strengthening. Nonetheless a major hurricane will impact much of Florida.
Irma hurtled toward Florida with 125 mph winds Saturday on a projected track that could take it away from Miami and instead give the Tampa area its first direct hit from a major hurricane in nearly a century.
“You need to leave — not tonight, not in an hour, right now,” Gov. Rick Scott warned residents in the evacuation zones ahead of the storm’s predicted arrival on Sunday morning.
Irma has shifted it’s track westward over the last day or so shifting the largest impacts to the west coast of the state and likely putting major problems into the Florida Keys. Miami, Fort Lauderdale and other southeast Florida cities will still be hit hard, but they are going to be spared from what some feared as “the big one”. The state is only a couple hundred miles wide so the shift in track can appear to have a different noticeable different affect for one specific area.
Tampa has not been struck by a major hurricane since 1921, when its population was about 10,000, National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said. Now the metropolitan region has around 3 million people.
Irma has left more than 20 people dead in its wake across the Caribbean, ravaging such resort islands as St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Thomas, Barbuda and Antigua.
The storm will likely produce hurricane winds over much of the western half of the state. The east coast will certainly have tropical storm force winds.
In one of the biggest evacuations ever ordered in the U.S., about 6.4 million people in Florida — more than one-quarter of the state’s population — were warned to leave, and 540,000 were directed to clear out from the Georgia coast.
Wind gusts over 130mph are very likely in many Florida communities on the west side of the state. This Sunday morning model image shows the extremely strong storm doing damage.
Gas shortages and gridlock plagued the evacuations. Parts of interstates 75 and 95 north were bumper-to-bumper.
Major tourist attractions, including Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World, all prepared to close Saturday. The Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports shut down, and those in Orlando and Tampa planned to do the same later in the day
Heavy rain will cause inland flooding starting tonight and lasting through Sunday. It will all start from south to north as Hurricane Irma tracks northward along the west coast of the Sunshine State.