While the Gulf Coast continues to deal with the devastating impacts of Harvey, emergency managers in the United States have another tropical threat to monitor by the name of Irma.
Far across the Atlantic, just west of the Cabo Verde Islands, Irma has strengthened into a Category 3 hurricane as of Thursday afternoon. Irma became a tropical storm at midday on Wednesday.
“There is the potential for Irma to ramp up to a powerful hurricane in the coming days,” according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.
“Irma is likely to become a major hurricane and could become a Category 4 well before it reaches the Lesser Anteilles,” Kottlowski said.
A Category 4 hurricane has sustained winds of 130-156 mph (209-251 km/h).
Subtle changes atmospheric conditions, such as slightly drier air and a small patch of strong winds aloft, can cause significant fluctuations in strength in even the strongest of hurricanes.
Irma will take about a week for the system to make its trek westward across the Atlantic Ocean. Meteorologists will likely be tracking this storm through the middle of September.
“All interests in the eastern Caribbean will need to monitor the progress of this evolving and dangerous hurricane,” Kottlowski said.
This animation shows Irma intensifying while spinning westward across the south-central Atlantic on Thursday afternoon, Aug. 31, 2017. Irma has well-defined eye. (NOAA/satellite)
“It is way too soon to say with certainty where and if this system will impact the U.S.”
During this time, plenty of atmospheric factors will come into play to determine its path.
Possibilities range from a landfall on the Leeward Islands in the northeastern Caribbean to the Carolinas and the island nation of Bermuda – and everything in between.
As of midday Thursday, Irma was located about 1,800 miles (2,900 km) east of the Leeward Islands with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph (161 km/h).
“Steering winds will guide Irma close to the Leeward Islands and then perhaps Puerto Rico and Hispaniola around the middle of next week,” according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Brian Thompson.
Conditions are favorable for tropical development throughout the central Atlantic, heightening the threat of significant strengthening as this system approaches the U.S.
“At the very least, there will be an increase in surf in the northeastern Caribbean early next week,” Thompson said.
Residents who live along the East Coast or have interests in the Caribbean Sea should take time to review emergency procedures and make sure they are prepared for extreme tropical conditions.
The system being monitored for tropical development near the Carolina coast at midweek has missed its chance at gathering the name Irma. This storm will bring rough seas, heavy rain and strong winds over the North Atlantic into this weekend.