Major Hurricane Irma strengthened to a Category-5 storm with maximum sustained winds of 282 kph (175 mph) early Sept. 5.
The extremely dangerous system has become the strongest storm in the world in 2017. As of 0500 AST Sept. 5, the center of circulation was approximately 440 km (273 miles) east of Antigua in the Leeward Islands. The storm is projected to continue moving westward and pass very close to countries and territories in the northern Leeward Islands early Sept. 6. A US GFS model run on the morning of Sept. 5 indicated that the storm could pass through the Florida Keys and make landfall near Naples in southwest Florida on Sept. 11 before tracking northward. Due to the size and strength of the system, destructive winds and torrential rainfall could affect most of the Florida Peninsula.*
* Forecasts made this far in advance are often subject to considerable change, but the storm has the potential to become a major disaster that could affect millions of people and cause major business continuity disruptions.
Watches and Warnings (0800 AST Sept. 5):
- Hurricane Warning: Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts, Saba, St. Eustatius, Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, Saint Barthelemy, British Virgin Islands, US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra
- Hurricane Watch: Guadeloupe, Dominican Republic (Cabo Engano to Haitian border)
- Tropical Storm Watch: Guadeloupe, Dominica
- Tropical Storm Warning: Dominican Republic (Cabo Engano to Isla Saona)
- Affected U.S. Areas: Southeast US (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina)
Leeward Islands (Sept. 5-6)
Catastrophic damage is possible in the northern Leeward Islands, particularly in Antigua and Barbuda, Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten, and Anguilla. The storm will pass very close to these islands, and destructive winds and storm surge of up to 1.8 meters (6 feet) are a near certainty. Torrential rainfall could cause life-threatening flash flooding and debris flows on volcanic islands throughout the region. Severe infrastructure damage is possible, and some islands may be inaccessible for several days after the storm passes due to damage to ports and airports.
US and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico (Sept. 6-7)
The storm is currently forecast to track close to the US and British Virgin Islands and north of Puerto Rico. Hurricane-force winds will probably affect all these locations, but very heavy rainfall will probably cause the most problems in Puerto Rico, where a state of emergency is in effect. Storm surge may cause serious damage in low-lying areas in the Virgin Islands.
Dominican Republic, Haiti (Sept. 7-8)
The storm will likely pass north of Hispaniola, but hurricane-force winds are possible along the northern coasts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Torrential rain could produce severe flooding, especially in Haiti. Flooding and mudslides could sever access to some hard-hit areas in Haiti, and humanitarian problems are possible, especially in northern departments where deforestation is a serious issue.
Turks and Caicos, Eastern Bahamas (Sept. 7-8)
The storm will likely track close to the Turks and Caicos and islands in the eastern Bahamas. Destructive winds and storm surge will be a serious threat in the low-lying islands. Severe damage is possible. All islands in the Turks and Caicos are at risk. Catastrophic damage is possible on Great Inagua and Ragged islands in the Bahamas. Other populated areas of the Bahamas that will likely experience hurricane-force winds include Mayaguana, Acklins Island, Crooked Island, Long Cay, and Long Island.
Cuba (Sept. 8-10)
Forecast models are not in agreement about how close the storm will come to Cuba. The hurricane is expected to reach the very warm waters of the Florida Strait, although it is currently unclear whether it will make landfall along the northern coast of the country. Hurricane-force winds are likely in coastal areas of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara, and possibly Matanzas provinces. Tropical storm-force winds will likely affect a much larger area, including Havana. Significant damage is possible along Cuba's northern coast, and protracted disruptions to the tourism and petroleum sectors are possible. Very heavy rainfall could also cause severe flooding and substantial agricultural losses. Nickel-mining operations could be affected if the storm takes a more southerly track and approaches eastern Cuba.
United States (Sept. 10-13)
A state of emergency is in effect for Florida, and starting at 1700 Sept. 5, highways statewide will operate without tolls. The storm is expected to veer northward Sept. 10 after tracking along the northern coast of Cuba. Landfall is possible in the Florida Keys and/or somewhere on the South Florida mainland. This forecast may be subject to change, but if it is accurate, the system is almost certain to affect the entire Florida Peninsula as it moves northward. Depending on its interaction with Hispaniola and Cuba, Irma may still be a Category-4 storm by the time it approaches Florida; major damage to property and infrastructure is possible.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott is expected to order mandatory evacuations for visitors to the Florida Keys to begin early Sept. 6, and evacuation orders for residents are to follow at an unannounced time. Monroe County officials have encouraged tourists and residents alike to begin leaving the Keys immediately, to avoid traffic. US Route 1 is the only road in and out of the Keys.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is expected to issue voluntary evacuation orders for Miami-Dade County as soon as the evening of Sept. 6. Mandatory evacuation orders could follow. The Miami-Dade Emergency Operations Center will be activated on Sept. 6.
Forecast models have consistently shifted the storm track slightly west, and the system could enter the eastern Gulf of Mexico, but it is still expected to make a northerly turn. This would put the Florida Gulf Coast and the Florida Panhandle at risk. Hurricane-force winds could affect much of South Florida for 24 hours or more, and the storm would cause major damage if the GFS model is accurate. Additionally, life-threatening storm surge would be a serious concern, as coastal areas along the Florida Strait and the Atlantic and Gulf coasts could be subject to prolonged onshore flow through multiple tide cycles. This scenario would likely prompt evacuations in vulnerable areas in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Monroe, Collier, Lee, and/or Charlotte counties, depending on the precise storm track. Tropical storm-force winds could reach the Florida Keys by late Sept. 9 or early Sept. 10.
Landfall in South Florida would probably lead to the suspension of flight operations at major airports throughout the region, and disruptions would spread to other airports as the system tracked northward through the Florida Peninsula. Port closures are likely, and contraflow restrictions could be introduced on certain roadways to facilitate evacuations.
The storm could turn northward after moving past the Turks and Caicos Islands, potentially making landfall along the coast of Georgia or South Carolina, but model guidance suggests that it will probably not veer northeastward away from the US Atlantic Coast - as is often the case with Atlantic hurricanes. High pressure over the Atlantic Ocean and the northeastern US could help steer the storm toward Florida and direct the center of circulation into the Southeast region. Even if the system moves through the Florida Peninsula and loses strength, extraordinarily heavy rainfall, storm surge, and significant flash and areal flooding could occur in Georgia and South Carolina. Hurricane-force winds could also occur along the coasts of both states; port and airport disruptions would be highly likely in Brunswick, Savannah, and/or Charleston if this happens.
Gulf of Mexico
Some models suggest that the storm could track along the northern coast of Cuba and eventually enter the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The storm might then make landfall along the Florida Gulf Coast or the Florida Panhandle, but the chances for landfall along the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana are presently low. Based on current projections, the storm should not have appreciable effects on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's (BOEM) Central or Western Gulf of Mexico planning areas.
If you are a FCM client who is concerned about upcoming travel please contact your Account Manager immediately.
Activate contingency plans if operating in areas in the path of the storm. Consider evacuating low-lying locations or underdeveloped areas while transport services are still available. Seek information about hurricane shelters, and be prepared to move to one of these locations and shelter in place for up to 72 hours. Fuel vehicles, obtain emergency cash, and stockpile bottled water and non-perishable food as early as possible. Charge battery-powered devices while electricity is still available; utility companies will likely preemptively shut off power as the storm nears. Restrict cellular phone use to emergencies only once power is lost. Move away from the immediate coastline within 200 km (124 miles) of the center of circulation due to the threat of major storm surge flooding. Stay away from rivers, streams, and steeply sloped terrain due to the high potential for flash flooding and mudslides. Confirm flights before checking out of hotels or driving to the airport. Plan accordingly for protracted power, commercial, and transport and logistics disruptions in hard-hit areas.
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Preparing For a Hurricane
In most cases, meteorologists provide a fairly accurate forecast of where a storm will strike at least 36 hours in advance. Often, people in a storm's path will have three or more days to prepare.
Preparations to take in advance of a storm - Personal
- Learning the most likely hazards you will face if the storm strikes your area. Some locations are more vulnerable to storm surge (for example, low-lying areas near shallow bays) while others are more susceptible to wind damage or landslides (which can occur after significant rain). You could face the greatest threat from the building you are in, if it is poorly constructed.
- Determining where you could go if it becomes clear that the storm will impact your area. You may decide to stay where you are (for example, if you are in a sturdy building on relatively high ground), or move to another building in the local area. You may also decide that leaving the area will be the best strategy; in that case, learn the best evacuation routes and find out in advance how congested they become during evacuations, and plan accordingly.
- Once you know a storm strike is almost certain, buying enough bottled water to last a few days - whether you are staying or evacuating - and nonperishable food, such as energy bars, in case you become stranded. Also, ensure you have a flashlight with extra batteries.
- Contacting someone out of the area and inform them of your plans (whether you are staying or evacuating).
- Planning on the evacuation of pets as well. Most emergency shelters will not admit pets without proof of up-to-date vaccinations (such as a rabies tag).
- Even a Category 1 storm can knock out communications systems, including cellphone towers. Do not assume you will be able to make calls or have Internet access during a storm. Depending on wind speeds and other conditions, local authorities may shut off electrical power hours before the brunt of a storm hits an area. Ensure you have a radio with extra batteries, and be prepared to live without electrical power and communications for a few days.
Preparations to take in advance of a storm - Business
- Review and update emergency action plans well in advance of the storm. Consider conducting drills. Think about evacuating personnel to outside of the storm's area of impact. If there is any doubt as to the viability of a structure, evacuate ahead of time.
- Stock up on nonperishable supplies and bottled water for essential personnel who must remain during the storm. Procure additional first aid supplies, insect repellent, ice, vehicle fuel, spare batteries, flashlights, radios, mobile phones, etc. Consider purchasing a few non-powered hand tools (hammer, nails, crowbars, wood, etc.) to have on hand.
- Test emergency back-up power supplies and ensure there is plenty of fuel to operate a backup generator should power be knocked out for an extended period.
- Secure buildings, or make sure building owners do so well in advance of the storm's approach. Remove or secure any equipment that could become airborne during a storm.
- If possible, ensure that critical business operations can fail over to business units outside of the storm zone as needed.